February 7, 2012

Phasing in new testing for Common Core

In a story today, I look at the ramifications of moving to the Common Core standards and a new set of tests.  When the state school board discussed the issue last month, it sounded an alarm about online testing. They don't believe that school districts have enough technology to mandate the tests be done online. In addition, there's a concern that children will get too much testing the year that the old tests and new tests overlap.      
Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

January 30, 2012

Hiding cell phones in Uggs?

Here's a great story on the decision by one Pennsylvania school to ban the wearing of Uggs, or high top boots, that aren't snug. Students were coming to school with their cell phones hidden in their boots. Cell phones weren't allowed in this school. How many schools out there still don't allow students to bring cell phones to school, or discipline students who bring them to class? Would teachers like to tell stories about inventive teens who manage to hide cell phones so they can text during class?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:56 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

January 26, 2012

Comptroller Franchot launches petition for air-conditioning in Baltimore County schools

Comptroller Peter Franchot is launching a petition drive to try to help Baltimore County parents protest the failure of the county govenrment to fund air-conditioning for its schools. Franchot, who is believed to be interested in being the next governor, has taken on the cause of air-conditioning in the county schools, a particularly hot button issue for parents and teachers in the county and city. Baltimore County has the second highest percentage of its schools without air-conditioning. Garrett is number one. Here's the report filed by Sun reporter Michael Dresser. The petition drive is here.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)
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January 25, 2012

State board wants major reduction in suspensions

The state board took the first steps yesterday to propose a significant change in the way school districts discipline students. They want schools to stop suspending students for non-violent offenses. So the student who comes to school with alcohol or talks back or cheats would not be suspended. One administrator suggested that if a student painted a swastika on the classroom window of a Jewish teacher, that teacher might see it as violence. But Jane Sundius of the Open Socity Institute noted that perhaps that was a great example of why out of school suspensions don't work. If the student is sent home for a day, he learns nothing about the Holocaust, and nothing about why that teacher might be angry or hurt. But if the student has to spend a Saturday at the Holocaust museum, perhaps he learns just how offensive his behavior really is. Many school teachers and administrators will disagree with the new suspension proposals. Some of them have already been expressing their views at the bottom of the story on the website. I would like to hear a debate on the blog about the pros and cons of this proposal. In particular, I would like to hear from teachers who were in the classroom before Columbine and before zero tolerance policies. How often were students sent home for more than a day and what were the most serious non-violent infractions? Did assistant principals and principals find other ways to discipline students? Did students write letters to their teacher when they were disrespectful? Did they stay after school? I would also like to hear from private school teachers. Are 8 percent of students in private schools suspended every year?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:52 PM | | Comments (5)
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January 20, 2012

Spelling errors in state education presentation

From our colleague Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog:

When interim Maryland State School Superintendent Bernard J. Sadusky made a presentation before two House of Delegates committee Friday, he spelled out certain principles for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Alas, the folks at the Maryland State Department of Education showed a certain flexibility in spelling  "principle" as well. Time for a trip to the principal's office?

See the photo of the presentation here

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 8:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

January 13, 2012

Seven counties not paying fair share for schools

We report in a story today that seven counties in Maryland are not meeting their share of the burden to fund public schools, according to preliminary state figures. Anne Arundel and Talbot counties are two jurisdictins that dispute whether they are complying with a law that says a local jurisdiction's per pupil funding cannot decrease from one year to the next. Legislative leaders and county government leaders are calling on a change in the current law during this legislative session. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:02 AM | | Comments (1)
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January 10, 2012

Officials say maintenance of effort needs to be revamped

A group of state education officials said Tuesday that a state-mandated education spending requirement for counties needs to be revamped to prevent local jurisdictions from underfunding education by $2.6 billion.

Officials from the Maryland State Education Association, Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Montgomery County Education Association outlined efforts to request that the General Assembly make changes to the so-called maintenance of effort requirement that mandates counties fund school systems at the same per-pupil amount for the upcoming year as they did the current year.

The group that met at the State Education Association office in Annapolis on Tuesday said that the current maintenance of effort requirement it so “broken” and “weak” that it is being circumvented by local jurisdictions. They said in a prepared statement that if the General Assembly does not fix the law during the upcoming session the state runs the risk of “opening the door to $2.6 billion in local education cuts.”



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Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:38 PM | | Comments (0)
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December 19, 2011

Expansion of summer programs for gifted students

Not long ago, Maryland had the money to offer one and two week summer programs around the state to gifted and talented students. These students, who have often been passed over in the rush to help low achieving kids, could learn about the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, jazz music in Baltimore or history at St. Mary's City. From Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, the state helped subsidize more than a dozen programs that allowed high achieving students to stretch their minds in the arts, sciences, and humanites.

But budget cuts shut down most of the programs several years ago, leaving only 10 available. Today, though, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has pledged to give $725,000 over three years to provide scholarships to 100 students to attend the programs at no cost. The money will allow bright students in high poverty areas who often get the opportunity to attend enrichment programs.

The summer centers are open to all gifted and talented students in the state.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)
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December 15, 2011

Race to the Top for early childhood announcement tomorrow

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to announce which states will be given Race to the Top money for early childhood education tomorrow. Maryland was one of the states that entered the Early Learning Challenge grants race. The announcement will be made at the White House at 10 am.

Maryland could win as much as $50 million and has pledged to spend the money on giving special education, low income and English language learners a head start to prepare them for primary school.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:38 PM | | Comments (0)
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December 9, 2011

New education reform advocacy group in Maryland

More than five years ago, a group called ConnCAN formed in Connecticut to advocate for those who wanted to bring a more reform agenda to the state. Now with the backing of a national organization, the group is spreading to new states, including Maryland. MarylandCAN's new executive director, Curtis Valentine, began work in August and has been talking to educators and advocacy groups around the state since then. 

Half of the funding for MarylandCAN comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The remainder will need to be raised within the state through individual and foundation donations, according to Valentine. The agenda for MarylandCAN is still in the development stages, but Valentine said it should be clearer by the beginning of January.  Valentine said he is going around the state meeting with lots of people in the education community, including superintendents, parents, teachers and legislators, and asking: "Where can we really move the needle?"

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Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
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December 5, 2011

Hrabowski and Kirwan meet with Obama to discuss price tag for college

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III and university system Chancellor William E. Kirwan were among a group of education leaders who met with president Barack Obama on Monday to discuss strategies for controlling college costs.

“He made it very clear that he’s concerned about American families’ ability pay for college,” Hrabowski said of Obama.  “I was encouraged by the president’s willingness to listen carefully.”

Hrabowski said he and Kirwan described Maryland’s efforts to improve efficiency in its system and to redesign entry-level courses so students don’t waste money by failing them. The UMBC president added that the presence of two Maryland leaders in a group of only a dozen experts showed the esteem with which the state’s university system is regarded. 

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Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Stevenson University president makes $1.49 million in 2009

Stevenson University president Kevin J. Manning ranked among the highest paid private college presidents in the country in 2009, according to a salary survey released Monday by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

With total compensation of $1.49 million, Manning ranked 15th among the 519 presidents in the survey.  Former Johns Hopkins President William J. Brody ranked second on the overall list, receiving $3.8 million, almost all from his retirement package, in his last year on the job. A story by my colleague, Childs Walker, details the compensation packages. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Minimum GPA to play sports

The Maryland State Board of Education is expected to vote tomorrow on whether to require athletes in public high schools to have a 2.0 grade point average to play on a sports team. While school officials are generally in favor of the new standard, which already exists in 16 districts, we wondered if some athletes will be unable to play. The new rule would be advise to school systems and not binding, however, it is expected to become accepted if it is passed by the board.

We are looking for teachers, principals, parents or athletes who are worried about the ramification on teams. We ask that anyone with an example, post a comment or get in touch with me at


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:33 PM | | Comments (7)
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November 30, 2011

Should cursive be written out of the curriculum?

A poll from our readers indicates that the overwhelming majority of people passionate enough to weigh in on the topic says it shouldn't. Eighty-two percent of our (more than 400, as of this post) readers agreed that cursive writing, in some way, still has value, and 18 percent said it should cease to be taught.

But what has been called a stale skill has spurred a fresh debate about what the next generation's set of literacy skills should include. My colleague Liz Bowie explored the local debate in a story this weekend.

I was so excited that Liz took on this topic, having been shocked (and somewhat appalled) when my mother, a retired teacher, recently scoffed at my argument that my favorite elementary school subject should still be an integral part of learning basic skills of reading and writing.

I was the student who sat at Dickey Hill Elementary School (not too, too long ago) and constructed the cursive alphabet (upper case and lower case) in dotted lines, just to trace them for practice. My notebooks were filled with the graffiti of perfecting my signature--which I considered the only thing other than my fingerprints that secured my identity.

Continue reading "Should cursive be written out of the curriculum?" »

Posted by Erica Green at 1:19 PM | | Comments (16)
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November 29, 2011

Julie Landsman to speak at Loyola Wednesday night

Julie Landsman, a Minnesota public school teacher and the author of books on race and education, will speak Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 6:30 pm in McGuire Hall at Loyola College. The lecture is entitled: "What has race got to do with it? Engagement, expectations and equity in our public schools." The event is open to the public and is free.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:50 PM | | Comments (0)
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November 14, 2011

Teachers say local school districts could lose $2.6 billion in funds

The Maryland State Education Association is warning in a report released today that $2.6 billion could be cut from local school system budgets if a state law is not repaired.

The state's Thornton law ensured that local county governments could not reduce funding as the state ratcheted up its funding from 2002 on. The law said local governments had to "maintain their effort." But the law has been eroded over the years, and a number of school systems have reduced aid to education without seeking waivers.

The MSEA says about half of the local money is at risk, although the assumption is that no county would meet its commitment to continue the same level of funding. That isn't likely to happen in the Baltimore area. Only Anne Arundel County has reduced its MOE, and this year, Baltimore City and Baltimore County are not likely to reduce funds to education. Donald Mohler, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's chief of staff, said Kamenetz is "committed to fund BCPS at the maintenance of effort level" for the next fiscal year beginning in July.

But in Anne Arundel County, the report says, teachers will not get a raise this year. In addition, the county has not increased its teaching positions in the past several years, although enrollment grew by 2,000.

The next question is whether the Maryland General Assembly will restore any of the teeth in the law in the next session.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

November 4, 2011

Michelle Rhee speaks at the Meyerhoff

When she was hired in June 2007 to fix the Washington, D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee said she was "a 37-year-old Korean girl from Toledo, Ohio," the antithesis of the person everyone imagined would be picked. Rhee, who spoke at the Meyerhoff on Tuesday night to a nearly full house, went on to become a controversial leader who polarized some groups in the city and eventually lost her position when a new mayor was elected. But she did shake up the city schools and her voice of reform has struck a chord in cities like Baltimore. (She started her teaching career as a Teach for America teacher in Harlem Park.)
She was entertaining and mostly predictable for those who have followed her career and her philosophy on education. She put in place a new teacher evaluation system and tried to fire many school system employees.
 I left pondering one idea that I do not hear often today. Rhee said she believes students are being coddled and made to feel they are good at something when in fact they really aren't. She pointed to her two daughters, dreadful soccer players with a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for their effort. When she tells them what she believes it would take for them to be acceptable players- 90 minutes of hard work a day - she is met with blank stares.

Continue reading "Michelle Rhee speaks at the Meyerhoff " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:15 AM | | Comments (6)
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November 3, 2011

The University of Maryland merger from two sides and the same voice

A university with multiple campuses “only adds complexity and public confusion to an already complex Maryland higher education structure.” The idea that a merged university will attract more federal grants is “poppycock.” Mergers are “not academic panaceas.”

These are all arguments that have been made by opponents of a proposed merger between Maryland’s leading public research campuses in Baltimore and College Park. But the words belong not to those critics but to the chief proponent of the merger, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The trick is that Miller wrote them in 1992 when he opposed a proposed merger between the University of Maryland Baltimore and UMBC. Miller chuckled Thursday when asked if he remembered writing the 1992 article for a faculty publication at College Park.


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Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
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November 2, 2011

NAEP scores show improvement in Maryland

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress give us facts but don't tell us what factors led to improvement in the state. Those determinations are left to everyone from education policy experts or classroom teachers.

Maryland scores were close to or at the national average back in 2003 and 2005, but scores begin to rise in nearly every test administration. So what was happening in 2004 through 2006 that led to the better scores on what is regarded as a uniformly rigorous national test? Andres Alonso, Baltimore's CEO, had an interesting observation yesterday. Those years were about the time Thornton funding had really kicked in. So he is making an educated guess that more money really does improve schools.

 He also points out that governors and legislators in Maryland, Republicans and Democrats, have generally  protected education funding. School systems may quibble with politicians in Annapolis over what they aren't getting, but in large measure, he said, Maryland has stayed the course in making education one of its highest priorities.

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Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
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October 24, 2011

Catholic enrollment declines have slowed

The Archdiocese of Baltimore said today that enrollment at its schools declined 4.3 percent this year, cutting the number of students who are leaving the Catholic school system in half. Last year, enrollment declined by 9 percent overall, and the Archdiocese closed schools and reorganized its system.

The Archdiocese said in a press release today that AdvanceEd, an accreditation organization, had recommended that the system be accreditated after evaluating the 60 schools in the system and the central offices.  A strategic plan completed last year after the reorganization was credited with stemming the decline in enrollment.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:10 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

Speaking out for school construction dollars

While there's been complaining in Baltimore County recently about the lack of air-conditiong and the overcrowding in schools, the city's teachers, parents, students and education advocates have banded together to try to get some solutions to their facilities problems. The group, Transform Baltimore, has started a campaign to get City Hall to agree to some more creative approaches to financing $2.8 billion in school construction needs.

On Nov. 3rd, Transform Baltimore will hold a Speak Out at 4:30 pm in the War Memorial Building where parents, teachers and students from 40 to 50 schools will tell stories about the deficiencies in their schools.

The mayor, city council members and state legislators will be invited to listen. Transform Baltimore has some solutions, including using a financing option that built and renovated 70 schools in Greenville, South Carolina's school district in five years.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:08 AM | | Comments (2)
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October 20, 2011

College Board announces redesign of AP classes

In its latest effort to give depth to its Advanced Placement classes, the College Board said yesterday that AP Chemistry and AP Spanish Language and Culture are being redesigned. The new courses will take effect in the 2013-2014 school year. The College Board has been criticised by some teachers and parents who see some of the AP tests as promoting memorization and a broad, rather than deep, understanding of a subject. Responding to that criticism, the College Board said it will move the chemistry  course from the "lecture and demonstrate" model toward a more "hands on and interactive" approach. The National Science Foundation was involved in the redesign of the chemistry test. About 122,000 students take the chemistry exam each year.

The new Spanish test places more emphasis on what students can do with the language rather than what they know about the language, according to officials.

A new World History test was put in place this year and next year a new Biology, Latin and Spanish Language and Culture start next school year. More information is available at the College Board website at

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:11 PM | | Comments (1)
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October 19, 2011

Financial literacy course being proposed by Franchot

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who hasn't gotten very far with the state board in his attempts to make a financial literacy course a requirement for graduation, said he's going to gather 10,000 signatures to support the idea. Franchot said he's already gotten about a third of the signatures  and he hopes to have the full number by the beginning of the legislative session this winter.

The state board has passed a requirement that financial literacy be integrated into the high school curriculum so that every student has some exposure to it, but Franchot wants a separate course required for students if they want a diploma. While few educators would disagree with the idea of having high school students become financially literate, I know many are concerned about the growing number of requirements for graduation. The more state mandated requirements there are the fewer spots in the schedule are open for electives. Often, those electives are the only chance a student has to pursue music, art and creative writing. What do teachers, parents and administrators think about this?

Should the legislature pass a billl requiring a free standing course on financial literacy as a requirement for graduation?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:44 PM | | Comments (14)
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October 18, 2011

German American Day Observed at McDaniel

About 1,000 high school students from across the state and Pennsylvania are taking part in McDaniel College's 17th annual German-American Day on Tuesday morning and afternoon, McDaniel officials said.

Continue reading "German American Day Observed at McDaniel" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)
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October 17, 2011

Tell the state what type of leader is needed in next state school superintendent

The state school board is holding a series of open forums for members of the public to say what characteristics they would like to see in a new school superintendent. The public also may fill in an online survey at  

 Nancy S. Grasmick, who held the job for nearly 20 years, retired in June.

Continue reading "Tell the state what type of leader is needed in next state school superintendent " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)
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October 13, 2011

Talking About Race series to look at black male achievement

The Open Society Institute and the Enoch Pratt Free Library will hold the next installment of the series Talking About Race on Thursday, Oct. 20 at 7 pm at the Pratt's central branch at 400 Cathedral Street. Ivory Toldson, associate professor at Howard University, and Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University, will talk about what can be done to improve the achievement of black males.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:56 PM | | Comments (0)
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October 4, 2011

Nobel prizes are plentiful in Baltimore County

Is it the water? Perhaps the leafy streets and old houses is what draws them? Or maybe it is just that two Nobel winners wanted really good schools for their children. This morning a neighborhood just south of Towson woke up to find it had its second Nobel Prize winner, Adam Riess who will share the prize with two others for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe through the observations of distant supernovae. Riess, 41, is an astronomy professor at Johns Hopkins University. Peter C. Agre, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine biochemist, won in 2003 and lived in the neighborhood at the time as well.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:05 AM | | Comments (0)
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September 30, 2011

More bridge projects reported by state school officials

Those bridge projects that everyone hoped would go away when they were introduced four or five years ago, are here to stay as long as the High School Assessments survive, it appears. Yes, more students, not fewer are using them to meet the HSA requirement, the state reported today. Bernard Sadusky, the interim state superintendent for schools, was originally in charge of those bridge projects for the state. In an interview today, he said he has interviewed hundreds of students about their experiences with the test and the bridge projects.  "We would like to see that number (of projects) decrease," he said. "I think we would have to take a strong look at the interventions" students are getting before they take the tests. "In my mind there is no reason every student can't pass the test." 

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Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:06 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

State says graduation rate highest in history

Maryland's graduation rate rose to - 87 percent - the highest in recent history, according to state officals. The bad news, however, is that the drop out rate has risen as well, apparently because of a poor economy.

We haven't heard from many school systems around the region, but Baltimore City CEO Andres Alonso called the system's graduation data "awesome." In the past four years, the city school graduation rate has risen 20 percent to 70 percent, a figure that is unusual he said among large urban school districts.

The other big news is that nearly half of schools in the state haven't met AYP.

We will update the blog through the day with more information as we sort through the recently released charts.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:50 AM | | Comments (4)
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September 25, 2011

Maryland State School Board discussing discipline

On Tuesday the Maryland State Board of Education will continue its discussion of discipline policies, with a panel of experts to talk about the length of time a student can be out of school while appealing a suspension. The board also will discuss the search for a new state superintendent.
The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at its Baltimore headquarters at 200 W. Baltimore Street and continue until late afternoon.
Discussion of the discipline policies is expected to begin at 2 p.m. The board also will hear a report on Maryland’s Race to the Top program and the SEED School, a public boarding school.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Parents join effort to push for renovated schools

A campaign called Transform Baltimore has been taking shape as city activists make the rounds of back-to-school nights around the city to get parents to join a coalition that has been building to get the city's schools renovated or rebuilt. So far Transform Baltimore has gotten a warm reception at 49 of the first 50 schools they have gone to around the city, according to Bebe Verdery, the ACLU of Maryland's education director. The group has created a video which can be viewed on its website to show what can be done with federal stimulus funds to improve a school.

As the efforts get rolling in the city there's a separate campaign building among parents in Baltimore County who live along the York Road corridor from Hereford down to the city line where overcrowding has become a constant problem, particularly in the elementary schools.

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Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:05 PM | | Comments (7)
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September 13, 2011

Maryland schools would get boost from Obama jobs plan

Maryland's schools, particularly Baltimore City, stand to receive millions of dollars under President Barack Obama's new jobs plan, according to our political reporter Annie Linskey.

According to our coverage, Maryland schools would receive $315.8 million in federal construction money and $114.2 million would be directed to Baltimore City Schools under the $447 billion jobs bill President Barack Obama sent to Congress this week.

The city's dilapidated school buildings, and the $2.8 billion needed to improve them has emerged as a top priority for lawmakers, community activists and state education officials. And recently, Baltimore County revealed that it also had a $2.2 billion need. State officials said conditions are similar across the state and a large-scale alternative financing plan is in the works.

The money is part of a $25 billion program the Obama administration says would be used to modernize 35,000 public school across the country. Of that money, $10 billion would be directed toward the 100 largest high-need public school districts, including Baltimore, Prince George's County and Montgomery County schools, according to a list released by the Obama administration.

This week, three Baltimore city teachers joined officials from the American Federation of Teachers in the White House Rose Garden to hear Obama present his plan. Afterward, they engaged in a one-hour discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, where they joined teachers from across the country in sharing the struggles of their school districts.

In addition to the funding for school renovations, another $541.7 million would be used to help the state pay salaries for teachers, police and firefighters.

Baltimore teachers told Duncan about the pipes that leak dirty water into students' eyes, the strained budgets in their schools, and the need for stronger support of the nation's educators, said Terrell Williams, a teacher at Holabird Academy, who attended the events. 

“It was an absolutely incredible experience," Williams said. "It made me realize that these issues are not particular to Baltimore City. We are feeling this across the country. Teachers are losing jobs. Buildings are not holding up. And it’s really important because if this [bill] gets passed, we can deal with some of these issues.”
Posted by Erica Green at 2:49 PM | | Comments (0)
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August 29, 2011

Area school systems close--again--before they ever open

The start of the new school year was delayed a second day for students in Baltimore City, and those in Baltimore and Harford counties, as the districts continued to grapple with power outages and other weather-related issues at dozens of their school facilities on Monday. All of the systems, due to welcome students back from summer vacation on Monday, announced they will remain closed on Tuesday.

Anne Arundel County, whose opening day was rocked by an earthquake last week, also cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday.

Howard and Carroll counties will open schools Tuesday, with a few exceptions. 

Continue reading "Area school systems close--again--before they ever open" »

Posted by Erica Green at 6:28 PM | | Comments (7)
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August 28, 2011

Dundalk High School has a turnaround

Turnaround success stories are few and far between, but what has happened at Dundalk is clearly a turnaround. In interviews over the course of the past six months, the teachers and staff told a story of work that has been both exhausting and exhilirating.  My reporting for this story reminded me once again that what happens in good schools really always comes down to great teaching and the relationships between students and teachers.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:21 PM | | Comments (9)
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August 24, 2011

School systems assessing earthquake damage

For students in Anne Arundel County, the school year got off to a shaky start--literally--when an earthquake shook the region late afternoon Tuesday. The county opened schools on Tuesday--the first of the local jurisdictions--but classes were disrupted at 1:51 p.m. when the earthquake send trembles through the East Coast.

The remainder of the local systems are assessing what damage, if any, occured in their school buildings as they prepare to open schools next week. At least one Harford County high school reported a gas leak, and 23 schools in Baltimore County found light to moderate damage, such as cracks in exterior walls and displaced ceiling tiles. A Pasadena high school reported roof and other damage.

In Baltimore city, which has the oldest and most dilapidated school buildings in the state, 11 schools were identified by engineers Tuesday to have noted minor damage, particularly cracks in bricks, ceilings and stairwells, school officials said. The damages are not expected to impact city schools opening on Monday, Aug. 29.

School officials said that nothing appears to be structural or serious, but a second review of buildings was scheduled for Wednesday.

In our coverage of the earthquake today, building inspectors advise caution in the wake of the quake.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:38 PM | | Comments (0)
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August 23, 2011

City not alone in need for adequate school facilities

While the Baltimore city school system has garnered a great deal of attention for its aging infastructure in the last year, a story by my colleague Liz Bowie this week finds that the strain of school facilities is being felt in systems throughout the state.

The story found that the need across Maryland is so great that state officials are beginning to investigate alternative financing arrangements that would give local governments large infusions of capital to build and renovate schools in a short period.

Baltimore County estimates it would have to spend $2.2 billion to modernize its school buildings, according to the most recent estimates, and that doesn't include the cost of any new schools. In the city, the need has been tallied at $2.8 billion, a statistic that civil rights activists have used to decry what they call deplorable conditions. Anne Arundel County has identified $1.9 billion in needed updates to school infrastructure and Howard County has a list of $500 million in projects.


Posted by Erica Green at 9:34 PM | | Comments (0)
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August 5, 2011

State board hires search firm to find new superintendent

The Maryland State Board of Education hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to lead the search for the next state school superintendent. The search firm is working under a $59,000 contract.

The search firm, which was used by Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll and Prince George's county school boards for recent searches for local school superintendents, will begin its work immediately. The Rosemont, Illlinois based firm also recently did the search for a new superintendent for Colorado.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates has led approximately 800 searches over the past 20 years, according to a press release by the department.

The search comes after the retirement of Nancy S. Grasmick who had been in the position for 20 years and announced earlier this year that she would be leaving the job. The board appointed Bernard Sadusky, a former Queen Anne's County superintendent who worked in the department for several years, to be an interim.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

July 25, 2011

A toe in the water on linking teacher compensation to student growth

State education leaders began discussing a difficult, once almost taboo subject at a recent state board meeting: should we compensate teachers based on the quality of the job they do?

 The Maryland State Department of Education agreed when it applied and got Race to the Top funding to have counties that compensate teachers differently share their practices with other jurisdictions. Earlier this month, a work group of superintendents, human resource officers and union representatives met to look at how five jursdictions have tried to pay their teachers or principals differently. Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's, Queen Anne's and Washington counties have all developed new models for teacher compensation. Interestingly, most models have not been put in place because of lack of money. The recession hit just as these ideas were boiling to the surface. 

Continue reading "A toe in the water on linking teacher compensation to student growth" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:17 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

July 19, 2011

Baltimore International College to file request with Middle States

The president of the Baltimore International College sent a letter to students today which details the next steps for the college. Edgar Schick says that the college will submit a request for reconsideration with Middle States so that students can finish the program in January. If the reconsideration is not accepted, then the college will appeal.

A spokesman for the college said reconsideration would allow students close to a degree to finish their course work this fall and allow the other students to move their credits to another institution that might take over the BIC.

The following is a letter from the president:

Continue reading "Baltimore International College to file request with Middle States " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

July 18, 2011

More than 200 D.C. teachers fired for poor performance evaluations

More than 200 teachers in Washington, D.C. were fired on Friday after they were rated ineffective on their performance evaluations, reports the Washington Post.

The teachers represented 5 percent of D.C.'s teaching force, and were dismissed after they received low ratings on an evaluation program known as IMPACT, which the Post said was developed under former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee before she resigned last fall.

According to The Post, the evaluation system grades on the following: "five 30-minute classroom observations and their compliance with nine broad standards. These include the abilities to express course content clearly, teach students with differing skill levels and manage time effectively. For some teachers, half of their appraisal is contingent on whether students meet predicted improvement targets on standardized tests."

Posted by Erica Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

June 23, 2011

MSA scores released next week

In response to several comments on the blog, I wanted to let everyone know that while no date has yet been set for the release of the Maryland State Assessments, we expect them to be announced sometime next week, before State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick retires. We do understand that many schools have now seen the results. Don't worry, we will report them as soon as they are released.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 20, 2011

Educator Effectiveness panel votes on evaluation system

Today in Annapolis, a work group set up by the governor to write a new teacher evaluation system issued its first report and it gives a lot of latitude to the seven school systems piloting it this coming school year, including the city and Baltimore County. The vote was 13 to 7 with pretty much all the members who represented teachers unions voting against the framework. Half of a teacher's evalution will be based on student growth, but it may well include portfolios of student work or benchmark tests. Of the 50 percent, 20 percent will be decided by the local system. One of the main points of discussion today was whether a teacher could still be rated as effective if her or his students weren't making academic progress. The answer was no.

Maryland has taken a go slow approach, and got special approval by the federal government late Friday to make the pilot a two year process. So after the seven districts pilot the evaluation system, the task force can come back and make changes. Then all 24 school districts will use it in the 2012-2013 school year on a no fault basis, giving state officials another year to make changes before it takes effect in the 2013-2014 school year. 


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:56 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

June 15, 2011

The grading of Advanced Placement exams

College professors and high school teachers are grading the Advanced Placement exams at several locations around the country during June and we've been following the tweets of Trevor Packer, the College Board's head of AP, in the past week as he observers the sessions. He's at Trevor_AP for all those teachers who are curious about the inside baseball remarks of those grading the exams. And here's a story of general interest about how the College Board gathers all those graders who arrive from around the country and why in the world they might want to sit and grade essays from 8 am to 5 pm for days on end. 
Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:56 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

Not everyone is anxious for the last day of school

 Sometimes students love their teachers so much they don't really want the school year to end. I got this email today from Katie Evans, a third grade teacher at Shady Spring Elementary School, who wrote it yesterday.

On the last Monday before school let out for the summer, I was eating lunch with two third grade students of mine.  Both students were very energetic, football loving, Wrestle Mania fanatics.
 We chatted about the recent wrestling matches and argued that living in Baltimore means your
 favorite football team can not be the Indianapolis Colts or the New York Giants.  We had to agree to disagree on this topic. As our 30 minutes of pizza and Capri Suns slowly came to an end, one of the boys says to me, "If I had 3 wishes, I would wish for 2 more months of 3rd grade with you."  Now to anyone else, this might sound cute, which it is.
 But to me, it will sadly mark the last Monday that I will spend with these two very special boys.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:27 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

June 10, 2011

Should school board members have children in the public schools?

With pressure to have more partially elected school boards in the region, we want to raise the question of whether at least a certain number of members of a board should have children in the public schools they oversee. Can that be assured with an elected board? 

Do board members with children in schools make better decisions?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:50 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

June 8, 2011

Baltimore city and county schools close for heat

In the past two weeks, we've seen unusually high temperatures,and that has meant school closings in Baltimore city and county, but not in other jurisications.

Those systems are the only ones that have been closing this week, not because they have administrations that are more sensitive to heat, but because every other surrounding county has fully air-conditioned its schools.  About 50 percent of the schools in the city and county aren't air conditioned, so the superintendents close their schools down several hours early or for the day if the temperature gets too high. The county has already announced it will close two hours early tomorrow.

Continue reading "Baltimore city and county schools close for heat" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:12 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

June 1, 2011

Sun database recognizes area valedictorians, salutatorians

This graduation season, The Baltimore Sun is recognizing the hard work of the Class of 2011’s valedictorians and salutatorians. We have launched a database on our website that will showcase the accomplishments of these dedicated students.

We’re starting to receive submissions for the database, but check with your principal/administrator or email for information on how to get your school’s valedictorian and/or salutatorian included if you don’t see them. We’re hoping to make it an all-inclusive look at the top students in the Baltimore area.

Continue reading "Sun database recognizes area valedictorians, salutatorians" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

May 20, 2011

Frederick County parent wins Comcast award tonight

 There's a lot of talk about parents not being involved enough in their children's schools and education, but today the state honors 24 parents who have been exceptionally involved in a school, and one who has been given the fourth annual Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award.

Shawna Capotosto of Frederick County works with the parents of special needs students to help them understand the system and find services so that their children can be successful in school. She advocates for children with special needs and sits with parents at  meetings with school officials. She serves on about half a dozen school committees. She won the award tonight at 6 p,m. at an award ceremony at North County High School in Glen Burnie.


Continue reading "Frederick County parent wins Comcast award tonight " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

May 19, 2011

More instances of students caught by zero tolerance

After today's story on a student in Anne Arundel suspended because she had pepper spray,  I received another call this morning from a parent upset about zero tolerance policies. This was a call that came from a county in the Baltimore metro area. The student had been suspended and arrested for a knife. His mother said he was depressed and worried that his mistake would screw up his life forever.

I was wondering what readers of the blog think about these instances of zero tolerance. Are there teachers who believe that the school policies serve a purpose and even if some students are caught in a rather unforgiving system, the cost is worth it to keep the rest of the school safe?

Or are more of you worried by the harm that is being done to students who are suspended?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:57 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

May 18, 2011

University of Baltimore student walks across the stage at age 72

 My colleague Don Marcus filed the following story:

Bailey Saint Clair received a standing ovation from many of his fellow University of Baltimore graduates during Sunday's commencement at the Lyric.  At 72, Saint Clair was not only the oldest of those receiving their diplomas, but also the most persistent.

 It took him 50 years to get there.

 Saint Clair, who grew up in Hamden, had earned his business degree in the spring of 1961, shortly after he had signed up to join the Air Force Reserves. According to Saint Clair, he was ordered to report to Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Tex. a week before he was set to walk at graduation.


Continue reading "University of Baltimore student walks across the stage at age 72 " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

May 12, 2011

Governor reverses decision to pull scholarships

Gov. Martin O'Malley read my colleagues' story in the paper yesterday about the state taking away scholarships for 350 high school seniors this week and decided to reverse the decision. The Maryland Distinguished Scholars program aims to keep the highest achieving students in state by offering them a $3,000 a year incentive in the form of a scholarship.  Students received word in the mail that the scholarships were being revoked just days after the May 1 deadline for students to commit to a college.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

May 9, 2011

Should lacrosse players have been suspended?

The debate over zero tolerance policies has been raging across Maryland for several years now. Some argue that to keep discipline and order in schools the rules have to be strictly enforced and punishments need to send a message.

On the other side are parents and other school officials who say that keeping students out of school does no good at all, and in fact may just leave students who already had discipline issues more behind in their school work and more likely to act out again.

In the story now on the web, I write about two lacrosse players who were suspended for having tools they used to fix lacrosse sticks: a lighter and a pen knife. Should the state board step in and try to set limits on zero tolerance policies in school districts or should each district be allowed to discipline students in a way that it sees fit?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:36 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Region

May 5, 2011

State awards school construction funding that some districts can't afford

Our Annapolis reporter Julie Bykowicz reported in a story today that the state Board of Public Works approved $264 million for school construction to districts on Wednesday, and in an unprescedented development, two counties--Charles and Wicomico--turned down funding and two new buildings because they couldn't make a local match.

According to the story, the state's 23 counties and Baltimore asked for $612 million in state help for building schools — down from a peak of $894 million in fiscal year 2008.  Our politics blog delves into why school districts are seeking less capital funding this year.

Of note: Baltimore and Baltimore County received $32 million each for the fiscal year that begins July 1. In Baltimore, a chunk of the money will be used to complete Waverly Elementary/Middle School — the first new school to be built in the city since 1998. Baltimore County will spend much of the money on a major expansion of Hampton Elementary School. Howard County is to receive $23.4 million and Anne Arundel $29.2 million.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

May 2, 2011

Forget air-conditioning, can we just turn off the heat?

I received an email about climate control at Parkville High School the other day. The custodian of the building wrote a letter to staff on one of the warmer days this spring trying to explain why it was that heat was coming out of some of the units. The custodian said that he must fire up at least one boiler every day so that the school will have hot water for the kitchen. The custodian told the staff that the heating system wasn't always connected to the water heater, but ever since the water heater went up a couple years ago, they are stuck with current problem. So until school is out, a little bit of heat will be coming into classrooms, which of course, aren't air-conditioned.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

April 13, 2011

Harvard educator and researcher defends Michelle Rhee's tenure

A Harvard educator and researcher has come to the defense of former D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, after a series of newspaper investigations and reports have been released questioning the academic and stylistic accomplishments of her embattled tenure.

Paul E. Peterson, director of Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance and a Hoover Institution fellow, released his own analysis that seeks to debunk the recent critiques of Rhee's accomplishments during her time in D.C. He also blogs about it here.

Peterson picks apart several studies and reports about D.C. test gains in recent years, and analyzes other factors of Rhee's tenure that could account for the district's progress in recent years. Of note, he looks at D.C.'s NAEP scores--considered the most reliable measurement of student acjievement available--to find holes in the arguments against Rhee's academic gains, even suggesting that the critiques may be more appropriately directed at her predecessors.

He concludes:

"In all the numbers Rhee’s critics have assembled, the two facts that stand out have nothing to do with test scores, but rather with student and teacher absenteeism. One does not know how quickly leaders can have an impact on student learning, but strong educational leaders are known for their impact on school culture. If we take Rhee at her word, changing culture was what she was trying to do, and those falling absenteeism indicators suggest that she may have had an effect, even in a short period of time. It’s even possible that a change in the D.C. school climate accelerated learning gains. About that one cannot be certain when only two years of NAEP data are available. But one can be quite sure that a case against Rhee has yet to be established."

Posted by Erica Green at 11:12 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

April 11, 2011

Center on Education Policy report on achievement

The Center on Education Policy, a D.C. based research group that has tracked student achievement since the beginning of NCLB, released a report last week that looks at trends in test data from 2003 to 2009 in many states, including Maryland. While most of the raw data can be found at, CEP has looked at trends in subgroups at both the proficient and advanced levels on the MSAs. In fourth and eighth grade, students of color, low income students and special education students are all closing the achievement gap in both reading and math.

But that doesn't mean there still aren't gaps. African Americans are far behind white, Asian and Latino students. And compared to white students, a much smaller percentage of African American students are reaching the advanced levels. It is interesting to note that most African American students are in Baltimore City and Prince George's County where gifted and talented programs are very limited compared to the county school systems. 

In addition, boys continue to fall behind girls in reading while girls are catching up to them in math. For anyone interested in looking at trends, the report provides a wealth of data put into bite size chunks.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

April 4, 2011

Prince George's County owes Filipino teachers $4 million

The Washington Post is reporting today that the Prince George's school system will have to pay foreign teachers $4.2 million in wages that were withheld from them. A federal investigation has concluded that the teachers had to pay visa application fees before they came to the United States in order to get jobs in Prince George's. The fees essentially lowered the total compensation for the foreign teachers compared to the American teachers. "It is appalling that a schoo ldistrict illegally and unfairly exploited workers who came from other countries to teach in Americand schools," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement released today. 

Continue reading "Prince George's County owes Filipino teachers $4 million" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:25 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

April 3, 2011

Grasmick still has lots of work to do

In today's editorial, the paper's editorial board writes about Nancy Grasmick's legacy. What has been noted in the past several days, is Grasmick's enormous ability to bring varying interests together to push forward the reforms she wanted. Having watched her for more than a decade, I can say she has gained a lot of friends just by being warm and gracious in public, even to those she had majors disagreements with. She will need every bit of that charm and the steel interior, to get through the next several months. What hasn't been noted is that she has a lot of difficult work ahead to build the teacher evaluation system, a key component of Race to the Top, which may be as defining for the future of education in the state as the high school assessments or the early childhood education initiatives.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

April 1, 2011

Who could fill Nancy Grasmick's shoes?

Today, state education reporter Liz Bowie wrote a story outlining what Maryland's education and state leaders said are the next set of challenges for the next state superintendent, who will be charged with carrying the torch of arguably the state's most respected and successful superintendent.

Many agree that the retirement of Nancy Grasmick--the longest-serving superintendent in the nation--on June 30 will be the end of a formative era in Maryland's education system. Our editorial board weighed in with a piece, "Nancy Grasmick will be a hard act to follow."  Feel free to weigh in on The Sun's poll about Grasmick's legacy.

The burning question now is: Who can follow in her footsteps?

Posted by Erica Green at 11:03 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

March 29, 2011

Schools collecting money for Japan

A fundraising effort to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan will begin in 1,500 Maryland schools on April 1 and run through May 13. Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, is asking school systems to encourage students, who she says have shown their compassion before, to bring in their change or dollar bills to help the Japanese people. The state will partner with the American Red Cross. Maryland school children raised $1.3 million six years ago after Hurricane Katrina.

Continue reading "Schools collecting money for Japan" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

March 28, 2011

High number of erasure marks shadow soaring test scores in D.C. schools

USA Today broke a massive investigative story  Monday that looked into some of Washington D.C.'s soaring test scores in recent years. The investigation was launched by USA Today after it found that a school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, went from 10 percent proficiency marks to being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for its incredible improvements.

Apparently, those results mirror a trend in D.C. in recent years. But those gains are now in question, after USA Today found the number of answers changed wrong-to-right on standardized tests was so high, that the odds that the number of erasures happened by chance aren't even comparable to winning the lottery's Powerball drawing.

This is familiar territory for us here in Baltimore. We learned that a similar situation transpired at George Washington Elementary--a National Blue Ribbon School--in 2008. State officials found thousands of erasure marks on test booklets, and the school's former principal was stripped of her license. 

According to the USA Today report, "based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, [USA Today] found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones."

"Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008," the report said. "That's more than half of D.C. schools."

The investigation has spurred a series of questions not only about possible testing improprieties in D.C. schools, but also about the tenure of former embattled schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

In his column, The Washington Post's Jay Mathews called for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to pull Noyes' Blue Ribbon status. In other states, USA Today pointed out, these discoveries have resulted in criminal investigations.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:34 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

The "Future of Teaching" discussion at Hopkins

The Johns Hopkins University School of Education will be holding a panel discussion which should be of interest to many of our readers on the future of teaching. The panel includes Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Michael Cohen, president of Achieve; Richard Lemons, vice president of the Education Trust; and Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief academic officer of the city schools.

The discussion, free and open to the public, will be held on Monday, April 25, beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m. at Shriver Hall on the main campus. The program will start at 7 pm. Anyone interested in attending can go online to rsvp. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 23, 2011

More Maryland kindergartners prepared for school

More Maryland students are showing up prepared for the 12 years of schooling ahead, according to a story we ran today. After a decade of state initiatives aimed of better preparing children to be successful in school, a state survey which showed that 81 percent of the state's kindergartners have the academic and social skills they will need to be successful in school.

According to the story, done by my colleague Liz Bowie, the state's Ready to Learn report shows a 32 percentage-point jump in the past decade in the number of children ready when they enter kindergarten.

Suburban school districts in the Baltimore area have exceeded the state average, but in Baltimore, only 67 percent of students--an 18 percentage-point increase over last year--were deemed prepared. The school system released its own findings, which can be viewed here.  

While Baltimore city still has a ways to go to catch up to its neighboring districts, it seems the school system is on the right path. The state attributed the improvement, in part, to local districts opening pre-kindergarten programs, and the city has noted a 50 percent increase in the number of pre-k seats it has offered in the last three years.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:39 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

March 15, 2011

Sights and sounds from education rallies

Since we weren't able to write stories about all of the education-related rallies that took place in Annapolis recently, I thought it'd be nice to pull together some local coverage of the events.

About 1,700 education advocates braved the rain and cold last Thursday to attend a rally (covered by the Baltimore Brew) organized by The Baltimore Education Coalition. The rally protested state funding cuts to Baltimore city schools. The school district and BEC posted some pictures from the event.

On Monday, educators, civic groups and labor unions from across the state--including the Baltimore Teachers Union--rallied against pension cuts, and in favor of full funding of education. The Sun took some video of the rally--which drew thousands--that can be seen here. Our Annapolis reporter Julie Bykowicz also covered the perspective of union ralliers, which can be viewed here.

Both rallies were deemed huge successes just based on the number of participants. This budget season, it seems educators and advocates believe that action speaks louder than words. 

Posted by Erica Green at 10:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

March 14, 2011

Maryland educators, advocates to rally in Annapolis tonight

Educators from around Maryland will take to Lawyer's Mall tonight to continue putting the pressure on lawmakers to fully fund education next year by maintaining the state's Thornton funding formula, and restoring millions to area school districts.  

The Maryland State Education Association has organized the "Rally to Keep the Promise," along with educators and advocates across the state. The rally will take place at 6.m. Among the speakers for tonight is "Thornton" himself-- Dr. Alvin Thornton, Chair of the Maryland State Thornton Commission, Associate Provost for Public Affairs at Howard University

The Baltimore Teachers Union will join other groups to also oppose any plans to freeze pensions, or shift teacher pension costs to local districts. While this could be what helps restore the funding to school districts, the union said its not an expense that Baltimore city can afford.  You can read the BTU's flyer for their cause here. A bus will leave from Polytechnic Institute and the BTU headquarters tonight.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:44 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

March 13, 2011

Baltimore school prays before standardized tests

A story just posted on the website details how Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School has held prayer services in preparation for the Maryland State Assessments being held this month.

The service wasn't held during the normal school day, but instead was on a Saturday at 10 am.

Central office officials didn't know about the praying and say they will investigate, but that schools should not be holding prayer services. Anyone disagree?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:00 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region

March 7, 2011

Chance to nominate student volunteers for scholarships

Passing along a nice scholarship opportunity, received via press release.  Deadline is March 15.

"The Kohl’s Department Stores is hosting a  Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program will award more than $415,000 in scholarships and prizes, ranging from $50 Kohl’s gift cards to $10,000 scholarships, honoring young volunteers who have made a positive impact on their communities. Nominations for kids ages six to 18 will be accepted Feb. 1 – March 15 at 

Continue reading "Chance to nominate student volunteers for scholarships" »

Posted by Erica Green at 2:56 PM | | Comments (0)
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March 4, 2011

AFT's Randi Weingarten blasts KIPP Baltimore's tactics

In an education column in today's Washington Post, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers--the parent organization of the Baltimore Teachers Union--sounded off about KIPP Baltimore's recent threat to shut its doors in Maryland on June 30 if the BTU doesn't allow the school to set its own working conditions for its union-represented teachers. We wrote about the conflict this week.

Below are some of Weingarten's strongest excerpts from the Post column, but I'd encourage all interested to read the column in its entirety.  

In short, she says KIPP is not playing fair.

Continue reading "AFT's Randi Weingarten blasts KIPP Baltimore's tactics" »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:53 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

February 28, 2011

Education rally postponed because of weather

The rally scheduled for tonight in Annapolis has been postponed, probably until March 10. 
Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

February 15, 2011

Union poll says voters oppose cuts to education

This morning, the Maryland State Education Association, which represents a majority of the state's teachers, released the results of a poll it commissioned from the Greenberg Quinlin Rosner Research. The poll says voters are strongly opposed to keeping state education funding level this next fiscal year. Under the state's education funding formula, the amount spent on education should rise by $100 million because public school enrollment is on the rise.

The poll done between Jan. 24 and Jan 29, says that most voters would support a combination of tax increases and cuts to spending to balance the budget.

Even when asked whether they supported keeping funding flat, in effect cutting education by $100 million, 82 of the respondents said they were opposed to such cuts. Those potential voters also said they were strongly opposed to raising the income tax or the gas tax, although they did support increasing the so-called sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and expanding gaming to pay for education.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

February 9, 2011

Senator's bills take aim at teacher quality

Sen. Bill Ferguson, assistant to city schools CEO Andres Alonso before he was elected in November, has proposed an education legislative package that is causing quite a stir due to its emphasis on teaching quality. We wrote the story outlining the bills today. 

Highlights include adding "ineffectiveness" as a condition for teacher dismissal. Ferguson said that while "incompetence," (also a condition, and the one generally used in dismissals) is similar, it's more subjective, and sets too high of a bar for dismissals. Effectiveness, Ferguson said, is a measure adopted by MD recently, to be used for the promotion and compensation, and it should also be used for the reverse.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, who just ratified a contract that butts heads with Ferguson's bills, said the freshman lawmaker may be jumping the gun in attempting to legislate among lawmakers, what is already a work in progress by school leaders. English is also part of the State's Council on Teacher Effectiveness, which is developing a new evaluative tool tieing student performance to 50 percent of teacher evaluations.

More importantly, union President Marietta English said, adding another condition for dismissing teachers could destroy the trust built in the district during the ratification of the new city teacher contract. (NOTE: Ferguson was part of that negotiating team for the new contract).

City schools CEO Andres Alonso however said he has long supported "ineffectiveness" as a basis for dismissing teachers.

Another teacher quality bill sought to allow charter schools more autonomy in their hiring by granting the schools the right to "mutual consent," rather than forced placement of teachers. Ferguson said the idea behind this was to ensure that charters are not stuck with educators just because they're certified, but because they truly share the charter's mission.

Ferguson's initiatives were embraced by charter operators, who said that they need more autonomy over who is in their schools for charters to really fulfill their mission of bringing innovation to the school system.

Ferguson, a Teach For America grad, ran on a education platform last year and has taken the first step in his promise to use the city as an inspiration in the statehouse.

Was this step the right step, or a misstep?

Posted by Erica Green at 2:30 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Around the Region

February 3, 2011

School, state leaders speak out about proposed education funding

School and state leaders have begun to speak out about the proposed education funding in Gov. Martin O'Malley's state budget.

In a story by our Maryland Politics Reporter Julie Bykowicz this week, education advocates, school and state leaders, including Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso, outlined how the change in the state's Thornton formula--which has vastly increased education funding in the state in recent years--stands to negatively impact schools districts at a time when the state is reigning the nation in academics.

The story explains how the Thornton formula, passed by the legislature in 2002, was designed to ensure equal opportunities for students by directing more state money per pupil to poorer areas such as Baltimore than to wealthy areas such as Montgomery County. 

The new budget proposals appear to undermine that goal, with Baltimore City standing to lose more than $15 million, while Montgomery County gains more than $30 million. Both districts, however, have noted increased enrollments.

Alonso has taken a diplomatic approach in the preliminary discussions about how the school system will mitigate its shortfalls. He said the cuts would, "inevitably mean a loss in services and offerings and an increase in class size in many schools."

"We will clearly look for savings and evaluate all programs in order to ensure that the shortfall does not impact the schools," he said. "But we think it will impact the schools, because every year the cost of doing business increases, and we have reduced the central office so significantly and pushed dollars into schools so much that it will be highly unlikely that a reduction in aid won't have to be absorbed by schools."

Stay tuned.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:42 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

February 2, 2011

Lessons from Egypt

The revolt in Egypt this week has produced powerful scenes of tens of thousands of people demonstrating peacefully for the overthrow of a government. Lawyers, merchants and the poor have rubbed shoulders in Tahrir Square, all callling for a change of regime. In Jordon and Palestine leaders seem to be running scared and looking to institute reforms to stave off similar protests. The scenes are reminiscent of what occurred 20 some years ago in Eastern Europe as non-violent demonstrations brought the Berlin wall down. Reading today's paper, I wondered if social studies teachers have taken the opportunity to stop for a second and teach the history lessons from Egypt.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

January 19, 2011

Facebook's role in helping communicate with students

School was closed in some districts yesterday on a day when many high school students might have been sitting down to take midterm exams. So I began to wonder if students were trying to ask teachers what exams they would be taking the next day? And were teachers trying to answer last minute review questions? Were they texting, e-mailing, going on Facebook or even tweeting?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:41 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

January 4, 2011

Owings Mills senior takes up anti-gay bullying cause

Brandon Hoffman, a 17-year-old senior at Owings Mills High School, has been disturbed by the number of times he hears anti-gay slurs in his school and wanted to do something to raise awareness about how offensive those terms are to many people. He believes athletes are more prone to this kind of bad behavior. (He runs cross country, wrestles and plays tennis.) So he and other athletes at the school will be holding a No Homo Day at Owings Mills on Friday, Jan. 14. They are making posters, plan to show a short video, and are asking other students to pledge not to use slurs that day. "Every day you should be abstaining from using these hurtful slurs," he said, but he wanted to designate a day so that other students would think twice. What he didn't expect was the outpouring of support on Facebook. Today, there are over 12,000 people around the world who are making the pledge.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

November 27, 2010

Poetry Out Loud contest

The Howard County school system will hold its second annual Poetry Out Loud competition as parto f a national meet that encouarges high school students to learn about poetry. Teh competition is presented in partnership with teh Maryland Arts Council, the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

The winner of the competition advances to the state contest. The state champion will participate in the national finals in Washington.

Joe Burris

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

Glen Burnie High graduate becomes Rhodes Scholar

 From my colleague Joe Burris:

Glen Burnie High School and Stanford University graduate Fagan Harris has been awarded a 2010 Rhodes Scholarship, one of only 32 students naitonwide, and 80 individuals worldwide, to receive the honor, county officials said.

Harris, who is currently studying in Ireland, will begin classes at Oxford University in England on Oct. 1. He attended Marley Elementary and Marley Middle School and graduated from Stanford last year.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:31 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

November 24, 2010

Alonso among those to choose fate of NY schools chancellor

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso may not have had much to say publically about the resignation of his mentor, and recently resigned New York schools chancellor Joel Klein, but he will have quite a bit to say about who takes Klein's place.

The New York Times wrote a piece  earlier this week about a new advisory panel assembled by New York's education commissioner that will help decide whether to grant Klein's replacement--publishing executive Cathie Black--a waiver from state law requiring leaders of school districts to have substantial education credentials and experience.

Alonso, who served as deputy chancellor under Klein before coming to Baltimore, was among those on the advisory panel who met in a private meeting in New York on Tuesday to discuss Black's credentials.

According to an updated story , only two of the eight education experts voted to unconditionally grant the waiver. Wonder if he was was one of them?


Posted by Erica Green at 4:24 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

War veteran barred by college

The fascinating story written by my colleague, Childs Walker, this week details how a war veteran is barred from a community college writing a story about the allure of combat for his English class. Charles Wittington got an A on the paper, but when his words were published in the student newspaper, college officials were concerned. Whittington wrote that killing "is something that I do not just want but something I really need so I can feel like myself."
 What do readers of the blog believe is the right course of action for the college?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

November 22, 2010

Comcast Parent Involvement award nominations

Maryland is looking for parents whose time and effort has made a difference in the school or  their district. The state is now seeking nominations for the fourth annual Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award. In the past, the awards have been given to volunteers who oversaw mentoring programs or advocated for change in their district.  Nomination forms are available from and are due by Wednesday, Jan. 19.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

November 17, 2010

Baltimore teacher contract passes

Baltimore's teachers voted nearly two to one today in favor of the contract they had rejected just a month ago. They said loud and clear that they needed more time to understand the implications of a  contract that substantially alters how they are paid. They apparently got the information they needed and are satisfied they will benefit. What do teachers believe comes next and what difference will this new contract have on the classroom two or three years from now?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:27 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Around the Region

November 11, 2010

O'Malley shouldn't give in to legislators, say editorial writers

Editorials in both the Washington Post and our paper today urge Gov. Martin O'Malley to go ahead with a regulation that would require 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation to be based on student achievement. A special committee of the legislature, voted against the regulation on Monday evening, however the governor has the final say.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:19 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region

October 12, 2010

Should the vote be delayed on teacher contract?

Today, Erica Green has written a piece that looks at the protest brewing among teachers who want to see the vote on the BTU contract delayed until the details of the teacher evaluation system have been decided.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:46 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

October 7, 2010

Teacher evaluation proposal by the New Teacher Project

The New Teacher Project has just put out a paper outlining six design standards for how teacher evaluations might be done. Since Maryland has convened a task force to deliberate a new model that could be used statewide for teacher evaluations, the New Teacher Project paper is timely.

I would be interested in what teachers think of the paper and how the ideas could be used in an evaluation system in the state.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

September 21, 2010

Michelle Rhee cites Baltimore in justification for tough tactics

Michelle A. Rhee, the embattled Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, may not get much love around the region, but yesterday she received the ultimate gold star for her tough tactics in leading the school system: the approval of Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey hailed Rhee, once a Baltimore teacher, as a "Warrior Woman" in her controversial tenure overseeing and shaking up the D.C. public school system. Rhee appeared on Winfrey's Monday show, which highlighted the film, "Waiting for Superman." 

The film, due to be released in select cities on Friday, takes a critical look at the politics of education and how it's failing the nation's students. It's directed by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed "An Inconvenient Truth."  The movie's tagline reads: The fate of our country won't be decided on a battlefield, it will be determined in a classroom."  (I will definitely be checking that out).

As Rhee used her daytime-TV platform to explain her tough reign in D.C. -- which has included a mass and very public exodus of both teachers and principals -- she cited her time as a Teach for America teacher in Baltimore as solidifying for her that "children have the potential -- they can achieve."

"The children are not the problem," Rhee said, "the adults are the problem."

Winfrey offered to the brief Baltimore conversation that the city's dropout rate (which was 6.2 percent in 2009) was poor.

The chancellor went on to explain how hard it has been to fire ineffective teachers, saying that school officials "basically have to meet a criminal standard" to get rid of poor teachers. She also said it's "ludicrous" for children to wait until teachers reach their full potential to receive good instruction.

I couldn't help but notice that Rhee's responses read from a familar playbook here in Baltimore.

Anyone else finding other similarities between D.C. and Baltimore's school system leadership?

Posted by Erica Green at 1:58 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Around the Region

September 20, 2010

Art exhibition of work by Maryland students opens today in D.C.

An exhibit of work by three dozen Maryland public high school students from 10 school districts opens this hour at the U.S. Department of Education.

The juried exhibition will hang in the headquarters building on Maryland Avenue as part of the department's student art exhibit program. Maryland is only the second state to have a show that displays work from around one state.

A ribbon cutting was held at 11 a.m.  The following students have work that is being shown: 

From Anne Arundel County: DeAndre Knight and Ashley Lim from North County High School; Louis Fratino from South County High School; and Kristin Schmit and Katie Emmitt from Southern High School.

From Baltimore City: Javonia Hartman, Nasheam Rodgers, Mark McGlothin, Gregory Jenkins, Ericka Kimbrough-Byrd, Brieawna Mason and Stacey Simmons from Heritage High School.

From Baltimore County: Katrina Navarro and Lauren Hartman from the Carver Center for Arts and Technology; Rodnique Steele and Bernadette Szrom from Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts; and Annie Bishai, Molly Broom and Emma Popp from Towson High School.

From Howard County: Briana Hanlon and Jane Yoon from Marriotts Ridge High School; Katherine Chorosinkski and Peter Favinger from River Hill High School; and Josh Tulkoff from Wilde Lake High School.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

September 9, 2010

Seven Maryland schools receive National Blue Ribbon status

Five Maryland public schools, including Eastern Technical High in Baltimore County and Ellicott Mills Middle School in Howard County, were named National Blue Ribbon schools this morning. Two Catholic schools also were named.

The designation recognizes schools that have consistently high achievement or have improved dramatically. "This is one of the nation's most significant awards presented to public schools," state superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said in a statement. The three other schools in the state are: Northern Middle School in Calvert County, New Market Elementary School in Frederick County and Northwestern Elementary School in Wicomico County.

The Catholic Schools were St. Louis in Clarksville and St. John the Baptist in Silver Spring.

Eastern Tech has maintained a record of high achievement over a decade, according to the state. It's High School Assessment scores were 99.7 percent in reading and 100 percent in math in 2009. About 20 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged.

Ellicott Mills also has a high percentage of students scoring well on the Maryland School Assessments, has high parent involvement and a record of outstanding music programs, according to the state.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:03 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

August 20, 2010

Mary Cary leaves her position in Baltimore County

Mary Cary, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Baltimore County, left her job this week.

Phyllis Reese, a spokeswoman for the system, said her understanding is that Cary resigned.

A longtime employee of the school system, who had once been principal of Carver Center for the Arts, Cary left the system about a decade ago to work in a upper level position at the Maryland State Department of Education. She returned to the county this summer to be the highest level academic administrator.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:19 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Around the Region

August 16, 2010

Text alerts: Breaking news at your fingertips

The Baltimore Sun is now offering text alerts to inform readers of breaking news first and fast.

Last week, those signed up for our text alerts were the first to know that the fate of City College's principal, Tim Dawson, had finally been decided after meeting the Baltimore City Schools CEO Andres Alonso.  Two days before, readers who receive our text alerts were the first to know that a City College staff member had been charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old student.

To sign up for text alerts, go to or text NEWS to 70701.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:07 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

August 5, 2010

City schools passed over for innovation grants, but area education entities to cash in

The Baltimore City school system received word Thursday that it was not among the 49 districts, schools and nonprofit organizations that would receive multimillion-dollar innovation grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The education department announced the winners of more than $650 million in Investing in Innovation, or "i3" funding, for which the city applied for about $23 million.

The city faced some stiff competition. Some 1,700 nonprofits and school districts applied for the school districts competition, including 30 in Maryland.

With the funds, the school system would have revamped the old model for how teachers are compensated with a measure called the Career Ladder that rewards teachers for the amount of professional development they get and their ability to apply what they learn, rather than paying teachers as they get more advanced degrees. The grant would have also paid for a data system to track whether the professional development that teachers are getting is having an impact in the classroom.

The other three projects would have gone toward establishing a Family Institute to give parents more information about child development and how they can help their children achieve;  a program for improving nutrition and fitness in 10 high poverty schools; and a program to do on-site, two-day reviews of schools every three years.

The school system maintained that although they did not receive the funding, they would continue to pursue the initiatives.

“The i3 grant propositions that we submitted reflects the high level of work already underway in the district," said city schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster. "This innovative work will continue, and in the coming days we will explore other potential funding options.”

But some area institutions, some heavily invested in Baltimore's schools, did receive the financial go-ahead to start innovating.

Continue reading "City schools passed over for innovation grants, but area education entities to cash in" »

Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

July 28, 2010

Who is betting on Maryland as a RTT winner?

Now that Maryland has secured a spot as one of the 19 finalists for the $3.4 billion education give away, I'd like to hear whether readers believe the state will be a finalist. We were one of a very few states on the list that wasn't a finalist in round one this winter, so what is the chance that we wiill win? U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said between 10 and 15 of the second round finalists will probably be designated a winner, depending on how many of the top states have large or small populations. So if a small state like Rhode Island were to be one of the winners, more money would be left for another state to get some too.

The stakes are particularly high for Prince George's and Baltimore City as they attempt to accelerate the improvements they have made in those school districts. With diminishing tax revenue the state may have a hard time not cutting education funding next year. So any extra cash the state can bring in may reduce the pain on local governments.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:08 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

July 22, 2010

The best (and worst) Maryland schools (updated)

We have decided this year to analyze the Maryland School Assessment data in several different ways to produce rankings of elementary and middle schools. If you are able to download an Excel file on your computer, you can use the links below to call up the lists. We have also included a ranking of schools by the percentage of students scoring advanced on the tests, which some educators argue is perhaps a more valid measure of how a school is doing.

My story in Friday's paper details how the best elementary school in the state is not one from the wealthy burbs (although there are plenty of those among the top), but a small school in coal mining country just a couple miles from West Virginia -- Crellin Elementary in Garrett County. The school may have a 74 percent free and reduced lunch rate, but the principal, Dana McCauley, says that isn't going to define her students.

The school seems to be a model for how a community can come together to see that its children flourish. And it seems the same is true for many of the top schools. Far from "teaching to the test," these top schools are succeeding because they are interested in the "whole child," principals say.

UPDATE: We know a lot of people have been frustrated by not being able to see these links. So we have created a file we hope everyone will be able to see.  The first group of links is to the PDF...the second group is the downloadable excel file.


Ranking of elementary schools by students who passed:


Ranking of elementary schools by students who scored advanced,0,7661312.acrobat

Ranking of middle schools by students who passed,0,2591967.acrobat

Ranking of middle schools by students who scored advanced.,0,7441688.acrobat PDF. Gdh

Elementary school students who scored advanced:

Middle school students who scored advanced:

Elementary school rankings for those who passed:

Middle school rankings for those who passed:


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:32 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

Fordham gives Maryland a C and D on standards

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has a report out that gives grades for each state's standards. Maryland didn't fair too well, although it was in good company. The report said the state's math standards were some of the worst in the country. In a story today we explore what the report said and get the state's response.

Maryland has recently adopted the common core standards, which is fortunate, nearly everyone agrees, because those standards are much tougher and better organized.

The interesting issue this raises is how fast can Maryland reasonably switch to the new common core standards (now adopted by half the states in the country) and can Maryland somehow rework the MSAs to reflect that switch even before the new Common Core Assessments begin in 2014?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:44 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

July 21, 2010

Maryland student test scores results are mixed

Maryland released the results of the state assessments for grades three through eight yesterday and the results showed few gains, except in elementary school math and a couple grades of reading in middle schools. Baltimore City scores were not as impressive as last year and Baltimore County scores were mostly flat with the exception of elementary math. If you would like to look at the long list of results for every school, here's the link. Make sure you note that you can hit reverse at the top of the page and see elementary scores.

We have also put together a database for readers who would like to download an excel file and do their own analysis. Here are the links:

What do readers think of the results from their school, district and the state?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:29 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

July 19, 2010

Houston sees increase in AP test takers

In light of the governor's proposal last week to have the state pick up the tab for those expensive Advanced Placement tests,  there was interesting news out of Houston this past week. After deciding to offset the cost of AP tests, the Houston school system has seen a 47 percent jump in the number of students who are taking the exams in one year. The Houston Chronicle reports that 9,000 students took the tests last spring. The pass rate dipped a few percentage points, but officials expected that.

Here's the caveat, though. Houston required any student enrolled in an AP class to take the test.  

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 29, 2010

Baltimore applies for federal innovation grants

No one can accuse Baltimore's public school system of not pushing some new ideas in education. The system has recently filed four applications for about $23 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education. There will be some tough competition for this money. Some 1,700 nonprofits and school districts have applied for the school districts competition, including 30 in Maryland. The first of the applications could be the most innovative because it would require a change in the old model for how teachers are compensated. The grant calls for a Career Ladder that rewards teachers for the amount of professional development they get and their ability to apply what they learn, rather than paying teachers as they get more advanced degrees. The grant would also pay for a data system to track whether the professional development that teachers are getting is having an impact in the classroom.

The other three applications would go to fund a Family Institute to give parents more information about child development and how they can help their children achieve, a program for improving nutrition and fitness in 10 high poverty schools and a program to do on-site, two-day reviews of schools every three years.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:59 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

June 21, 2010

Charter schools expected to be hot topic Tuesday

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is pledging to double the number of charter schools in the state if he is elected governor, will be meeting in Montgomery County with parents who have been prevented from opening charter schools.

Baltimore City still has the vast majority of charter schools, in part because the local school board, which must approve all charters, has been more friendly to these schools than other jurisdictions like Montgomery and Frederick counties. The city also has gotten far more applications from parents, teachers and non-profits who want to open charters.

Tomorrow morning, the Maryland state school board is going to be considering a charter school policy, although the details haven't  been released.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:01 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

June 14, 2010

Newsweek high school ranking is out

Maryland has 98 schools on Newsweek's annual list of "best" high schools in the country released yesterday. Perhaps we should debate what makes a high school one of the best, but Jay Mathews, the Washington Post education columnist who started judging high schools and ranking them more than a decade ago, defines it this way: how hard administrators in the school are pushing Advanced Placement and International Baccalareaute classes. More precisely, each school is given an index number that shows the number of AP or IB tests given divided by the number of graduates each year. A school has to have at least one test given for each graduate to make the list. Only 6 percent, or 1,600, of the 27,000 high schools in the country make the list. 

Continue reading "Newsweek high school ranking is out " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:36 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

June 11, 2010

Share your best school-year memories

It’s (almost) over.

The school year that yet again saw Maryland’s public schools ranked No. 1 in the nation by Education Week is coming to a close. The year was marked also by controversy over the Race to the Top competition for federal funding, as well as cheating and bullying scandals in Baltimore City. But the events that will be remembered for years to come are the record-breaking snows in December and February, which led to the day after day off. The snowfalls extended the school year, which ends next week for many of our region’s districts.

As schools close for the summer, we want students, parents and teachers to share their thoughts about the past year. Kids, what was your best memory? Teachers and parents, not only can you encourage children to participate, but tell us your favorite memories as well.

Post them here on the blog, and we’ll publish the best ones in the newspaper after school ends. Please also share photos from your end-of-school experiences by e-mailing them to or submitting them to our school memories photo gallery.

Posted by Carla Correa at 8:59 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

June 7, 2010

Can all this technology be good for growing brains?

I would like to hear from teachers, principals, parents and kids today about how good they think they are at multi-tasking. Have teachers seen a downside to the constant text messaging, Facebooking and computer use?  Are students able to focus for long periods of time on one task? What do English papers or complex math problems look like these days? Are they more riddled with errors because kids are trying to do their math and write their papers while they text and use Facebook? Or do teachers believe students are able to process information more quickly? Do some children benefit? Here's a New York Times piece to get your thoughts started. Warning: the story is long so you will have to focus for an extended period of time. Can you read it from start to finish without interruption?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:27 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

June 2, 2010

Finding the funds to renovate city schools

The ACLU released a report this morning that says at the current funding levels it will take decades before the city is able to renovate its aging schools. The report recommends that the state and city find some more creative ways to finance renovations and new school construction. While the report focuses on the city, it is clear that some other jurisdictions also have great n needs. For instance, Baltimore County still has a significant number of schools that aren't air conditioned. What do teachers and students see as the needs in their schools?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:47 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

June 1, 2010

Thirty-five Race to the Top applications filed today

Maryland's Race to the Top application, which pushed state officials to change laws and regulations, was hand delivered a few hours ago to the U.S. Department of Education. It is likely to be a couple of months before we learn whether Maryland will be one of the finalists. Education experts believe 15 or so states will be finalists. That group of states will then go to Washington to argue their case. A final decision is expected by September.

In the end, the Prince George's County teachers did sign the application, joining the city's teachers as well. Prince George's stands to gain significant money for its schools. 

Gov. Martin O'Malley also signed an executive order today creating the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness. The council, made up of teachers, principals, education experts and legislators, will spend the next seven months creating a model for teacher evaluations as is required by the recently passed state education reform law.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

May 27, 2010

Montgomery County as the school bully

Today, the editorial board at The Sun has taken on Montgomery County, commenting on what it sees as its flawed reasons for not signing the Race to the Top application.

Who agrees?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:00 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

May 17, 2010

Disparities in arts education on display at the Walters

There's an interesting piece in the Huffington Post today about an art show at the Walters Art Museum this weekend and the disparities in the resources available to art teachers in suburban districts and the city. In Baltimore and Howard counties, art and music classes are a given that start early in elementary school and continue through high school. There's comparatively little in the city. The piece also looks at the effects of zero basing schools. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:33 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

May 13, 2010

Montgomery says maybe to Race to the Top

Montgomery County hasn't yet agreed to sign the Race to the Top application and is one of only two districts that is holding support back from the state's efforts to win as much as $250 million in federal funds later this year. (Frederick is the other.)  The Montgomery County school board voted earlier this week to sign the application if state education officials allow it to continue to use what it says is a highly successful teacher evaluation system. The board wants the state to say that its evaluation system is currently in compliance with the Education Reform Act recently passed by the General Assembly and any other regulations passed in the future by the state board.

Since on the face of it the evaluation system doesn't seem to meet the standards that the state wants, we will have to watch and see if the state trades such a blanket OK for school leaders' signatures. I am guessing not.

A state education spokesman said state officials are reviewing the Montgomery County request and are continuing to discuss it with the county school leaders.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:51 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

Grasmick speaks at Gallaudet graduation

Friday afternoon, Maryland State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick will be the commencement speaker at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The choice might seem unusual for a university where many of the students are deaf, but it illuminates a fact few in the public are aware of: Grasmick got a master's degree in deaf education in 1965 from Gallaudet. She then began her teaching career in Baltimore City as a teacher of deaf children.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

May 10, 2010

Maryvale will try to help students learn a life lesson

For many years, Maryvale Preparatory School has required its seniors and their parents to attend sessions about alcohol addiction and abuse a few weeks before the prom. If you don't attend the session, the school says, then you aren't allowed to go to the prom. This year will be different though. This year, Michael Gimbel, a well known substance abuse consultant, will use the death of University of Virginia student and Cockeysville resident Yeardley Love last week to talk to the girls about the pressures they will face in just a few months when they head off for college. And he won't just talk about drinking on college campuses but physical violence against women as well.

"This year I can get into talking about alcohol and violence and using this case and this tragedy to say 'Look it does happen,'" he said.

But the issue won't just be raised with students, said Margaret White, the dean of students. Parents will attend their own session separately and be told what questions they need to ask next fall. I am guessing Gimbel won't have trouble getting anyone's attention.

With so much national attention focused on the death of one local woman, Maryvale might well also use the opportunity to tell students to be alert to the signs of abuse and to report those to  coaches, teachers, parents or whoever will take action.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

May 6, 2010

Naval Academy professor wins parental involvement award

Jeffrey Macris, the parent of Anne Arundel County public school students, won the third annual Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award at an award ceremony this evening.

The U.S. Naval Academy history professor and his wife have five children, none of them yet in a middle school, but he helped lead an effort to make major changes in two middle schools in Anne Arundel County, according to a statement by the Maryland State Department of Education. Under his leadership, a group of Annapolis parents lobbied officials to bring a "world class academic program" to Annapolis Middle and Bates Middle and to establish better discipline. Annapolis Middle is now an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme school and Bates Middle is an arts magnet school.

The five finalists for the award included Donna Hager, a parent at the Midtown Academy Public Charter School in Bolton Hill, and Jay Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen, a Cromwell Valley Elementary School parent.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Hawaii envious of Maryland

Hard to imagine that there's much Hawaii has to be jealous about when they think of Maryland. Let's see. Glistening water and white beaches or four feet of snow. Fantastic waterfalls, exotic flowers and volcanos or, well, rolling green hills and flat marsh land.

Well, turns out that at least one person in Hawaii has found a reason to think Maryland has it all over that fine vacation destination.  The author of a piece in Honolulu Magazine thinks Maryland's public schools are far better than those in Hawaii. The piece says we have better governance, spend our money more wisely and have better accountability systems. The piece is so glowing that it could have been written by the governor or Nancy Grasmick herself (although she might have had a few more caveats than the author did.)

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

May 4, 2010

Pinsky blasts Grasmick on teacher evaluations

Just in case someone thought that state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick's proposal to require 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based on student achievement would sail through the regulatory process,  check out Sen. Paul Pinsky's Op Ed piece today.  It is clear he doesn't think the state board should go through with the proposal. And it is hard to imagine that his view won't carry a lot of weight when it comes before a committee that he co-chairs in Annapolis. He's also employed by the union.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:03 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

May 3, 2010

Remembering Notre Dame Prep alum Yeardley Love

This morning, a 22-year-old University of Virginia lacrosse player and Notre Dame Prep alumna died in her apartment in Charlottesville, the apparent victim of an attack, according to police. A Chevy Chase man, who is also a lacrosse player and UVA student, has been charged with her murder.

I have been working on the sad story today of her death, but I wanted to pause to give NDP graduates, students and teachers and anyone else who knew her a place to write about their memories of Yeardley. What do you remember most about her?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:05 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Around the Region

April 26, 2010

What reauthorization of NCLB might look like

The Baltimore City public school system held a panel discussion today that looked at what the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act will mean for the school district. A panel of national education experts said that despite the fact that nearly everyone agrees the law is deeply flawed, its premise is likely to remain. So we will still have accountability, meaning testing of children, and the emphasis on ensuring that all children must succeed will continue.

But proposals on the table now call for the law to be rewritten, giving local districts more say in how they deal with failing schools and what they do to fix them. In addition, it looks as though many believe we should stop identifying so many schools as troubled and focus on the bottom 5 percent across the nation.

Continue reading "What reauthorization of NCLB might look like" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

April 22, 2010

Green schools celebrated on Earth Day

This Earth Day, my colleague Tim Wheeler, writes about green schools on his environment blog. Maryland Public Television is airing a documentary, "Growing Greener Schools," at 4:30 p.m. today (with a rebroadcast for early risers at 4 a.m. Friday).  The show looks at how environmentally oriented curriculums and green buildings are changing students, families and communities.  In addition, Pinewood Elementary in Baltimore County is being honored by the National Education Association for its Earth friendly efforts.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

April 19, 2010

Will school districts sign on to Race to the Top?

Maryland's school superintendent, Nancy S. Grasmick, has given local districts until Friday to decide whether they want to sign on to the Race to the Top application. If districts sign, they stand to gain some federal money, but signing also commits them to reforms. Today, Montgomery County's superintendent Jerry Weast makes a case that his school district is far head of others in Maryland in enacting its own strategies. Although Weast said no decision has been made, his op ed piece makes it sound as though the county has made up its mind.  Baltimore City and Prince George's County will likely sign because they have the most to gain financially, but the discussion should be lively in some areas of the state.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

April 13, 2010

Race to the Top application available

Maryland has just posted its Race to the Top application on its website. Here's the link. I have just started reading, but the emphasis seems to be on steps the state will take to close the achievement gap.  The application says Maryland will rewrite its standards, curriculum and assessments to adhere to the new national standards, that it will try to turnaround more low performing schools through a turnaround center it has been setting up, and better train and prepare its teachers. The application also says it will strengthen teacher evaluation systems (as it has to under a bill passed last night) and create a powerful new data tracking system.

So please post your comments here after you have had time to read the report. My sources say to skim section A and give a close read to sections D and E.

More on this subject later.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:43 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

April 7, 2010

Montgomery County finalist for the Broad prize

Last week, Montgomery County's public school system was named a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which is a prestigious award given each year to a school system that makes significant gains in its overall performance as well as reducing acheivement gaps.

The finalists are chosen from a committee that looks at about 100 school systems nationwide. Montgomery is the first school system in the region to be named a finalist.

The award comes at a somewhat awkward time for education leaders around the state who are trying to persuade the county to come around and support Maryland's application for Race to the Top.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that only Delaware and Tennesee were the winners in the first round of the biggest reform giveway in education in the U.S. The two states apparently won, in part, because they had gotten all their school districts to sign on to the application. Maryland can hardly maintain that it will have unity among its school systems to carry out progressive, sometimes contentious reforms, if its biggest school district doesn't agree to sign on. Right now Montgomery isn't in the game.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

April 6, 2010

Harford Delegate Wants All LGBT Sites Blocked In Schools

I stumbled across this article the other day and wanted to get your thoughts.

Apparently,  Harford Del. Rick Impallaria wrote a letter to the Harford County school superintendent and board of education members stating he does not approve of the decision to unblock LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Web sites for any reason.

 "I am shocked to read that someone has decided to allow 'alternative sexual lifestyle' Web sites to be unblocked, giving County public school students access to them," he wrote in the letter.

The sites were unblocked after the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland made the request on behalf of teachers and students.

Some of the web sites that had been blocked include: Equality Maryland; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG; the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN; Human Rights Campaign, or HRC; the Interfaith Working Group; Dignity USA; and Jewish Mosaic.

"Our schools should be putting their emphasis on teaching our children the three R's and preparing them to earn a living, which is the basis for a successful life," Impallaria wrote. "All these other issues should be dealt with by the parents, on their own time and on their own dime."

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:54 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region

March 31, 2010

Carroll County assistant superintendent chosen to lead school system

Stephen H. Guthrie, assistant superintendent for administration in Carroll County, has been named superintendent for the school system.

Guthrie will replace current Superintendent Charles Ecker on July 1, when Ecker retires.

Guthrie, who began his career as a social studies teacher in 1978, taught in California and Pennsylvania before arriving in Carroll as a teacher in 1982. Guthrie began working for the human resources department in 1991 and became the director in 2001. Guthrie has held his current position for the past eight years.

Read the story here.


Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:55 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

New Carroll County superintendent to be named this morning

We’re eagerly awaiting word from Carroll County school officials as to the new superintendent chosen to replace Charles Ecker, who is retiring at the end of the academic year. Read more here.

Officials have been hush-hush as to the identity of the new leader.

All we know is that a national search yielded 22 candidates to apply for the position that pays $180,000 annually.

The announcement is scheduled to be made at 10 a.m. Come back to the blog later today for an update.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

March 23, 2010

Maryland's Race to the Top application

Being ranked No. 1 in the nation by Education Week isn't going to be enough to give Maryland a good chance at the $250 million prize of federal education funds in the Race to the Top competition; nor will the state's No. 1 status as the state with the highest percentage of seniors who took and passed at least one Advanced Placement test last year. What will be needed, according to Anand Vaishnav, a consultant who is helping write the state's Race to the Top application, is for the state to produce a bold plan with emphasis on improving teacher and principal quality. The state legislature is currently debating legislation that would require school systems to make student testing a significant part of the teacher and principal evaluation, as an effort to better position itself in the race. States with the most competitive applications, Vaishnav said, are those that go even further.

For instance, some states have said they will use the evaluation data to identify high-performing teachers and principals and then deploy them strategically in some of the lowest-performing schools.

Vaishnav made it clear that Maryland should try hard to get school districts and teachers unions to sign on to the state's application for Race to the Top, a federal program that will dole out $3 billion in the next six months to a handful of states, particularly in the area of improving principal and teacher effectiveness and in turning around the lowest-performing schools in the state. Vaishnav works for Education First, a nonprofit based in Seattle that the state has hired to help.

On April 7, the state will release the first draft of its application and we will let readers comment on how bold a proposal they see! 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:00 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

March 10, 2010

D.C School's Chancellor Michelle Rhee is engaged to Sacramento's Mayor

Michelle Rhee is now engaged to former NBA star and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson. I wonder how many folks in D.C. are wondering whether or not marriage might mean a departure from her current job?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

March 3, 2010

Catholic school closings to be announced today

This afternoon, the Archdioce of Maryland will be telling principals, students and parents what schools it will be closing at the end of this school year. If there are parents or teachers who hear the news about a school, please feel free to give us your reaction here. We welcome comments here as the Catholic community learns the news today.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:01 PM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Around the Region

March 1, 2010

Closing Catholic schools

The Archdiocese of Maryland will be making a major announcment on Wednesday about the Catholic schools in the state.  After a year of studying how to stem the loss of students, the archdiocese is expected to announce that it will close a significant number of schools as we write in Sunday's paper.

While the Catholic schools have educated many residents in the past, the number of Catholics who attend the schools has dropped. The Archdiocese can no longer support schools with dwindling enrollments, and so they have made some hard decisions. Some of the schools that are thriving are those that charge significant tuition, have raised outside money for endowments and are attended by middle and upper middle class students. The parish schools that remain in the inner city and in rural areas have had more difficulty.  In the past, the parochial schools have gone to the state seeking some public dollars to keep them afloat, including money for textbooks. Do readers believe we should subsidize the parochial schools?

Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso has said he would hope to make all the public schools so good that the private schools can't compete. Is greater competition from the charter schools hurting the parochial schools?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:34 PM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Around the Region

February 22, 2010

How do you like your charter school?

A parent looking for a school to send her kindergartener to next year commented on the blog that she is having difficulty finding good information about the area's charter schools, particularly in the city. Her comment may not have been seen by many readers, so I thought I would give everyone a chance to offer advice on charter schools in the area. Do you have a charter school you particularly like, or one you have reservations about? Here's the place to express an opinion. Please don't sound off on schools you know nothing about!

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:22 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Region

February 18, 2010

Anne Arundel County wants to know how you want to make up snow days

From Baltimore Sun reporter Nicole Fuller:

Here is a chance for all those Anne Arundel County students and parents to sound off on how they want to change the calendar to make up snow days. Do you want to stay in school to July or go to school during spring break?

The school board is soliciting suggestions from county residents on how to recoup the lost instructional time for all those snow days.

Anne Arundel has closed school on 10 days due to inclement weather so far this school year.

Unless the state board grants a waiver from the 180 days school year law, then Anne Arundel students have to make up six of those days. The other four were already calculated in the school calendar.

And Anne Arundel is not alone. Most school systems around the state are in the same boat. What do you think; how should students make up these days? Weigh in here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:18 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Region

February 16, 2010

So how was that trip to school?

School superintendents finally said, "Enough," and are calling students back into school tomorrow.  We are wondering what the commute to school will be like for teachers and students. So post your comments here on whether it was a piece of cake or horrible to get your child on the bus, to park your car near a school or to walk your child blocks to the front door.  

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:50 PM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Around the Region

Mote to retire as College Park president

The Unversity of Maryland College Park will be out searching for a new leader for the first time in more than a decade, as my colleague, Childs Walker, writes in today's paper. Under its current president, C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr., the university increased its research funding by 150 percent, completed the two largest fundraising campaigns in its history, and increased its applicant pool by 78 percent. So the search this time around will be far different than it was in 1998 when the university was seen as a middling state university.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

February 11, 2010

Maryland leads the nation in AP

An argument could be made that the College Board's ranking of Maryland as No. 1 on AP tests passed is a much more significant accomplishment than the Education Week ranking that came out last month.

As my colleague, Childs Walker, writes in today's paper  Maryland had the highest percentage of seniors last year who took and passed at least one AP test in their high school career. One can argue that this is the result of a lot of high-achieving students in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., suburbs, but in fact, the numbers of students around the state taking AP also has increased a lot in the past decade.

Still, the AP is a consistent, rigorous standard and the fact that the state's pass rate was 24.8 percent, nearly 10 percentage points higher than the national average, should give parents and educators a sense of what is possible among its highly motivated students. And there are a lot of them. In Maryland, 40 percent of seniors took an AP course before they graduated, giving them a taste of what college may be like. That is significant because studies have shown that students who have taken a course, even if they didn't pass the test, are three times more likely to graduate from college.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:02 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

February 9, 2010

Cabin fever after winter break (number two)!

Dare I suggest that perhaps students won't be going back in school for another week? Yes, I do believe that if another 18 or 20 inches of snow drops down on the region today and tomorrow, it is possible schools won't be able to open this week at all. With the Presidents Day holiday Monday added to the closures for snow, students will have been off for 11 straight days or exactly the same length of time they had off for the winter holiday.


Are all the teachers who read this blog wondering whether it will take students a long time to settle into the routine of school again or do you believe that they will have been cooped up inside for so long that they will be dying to get back to school?

What about students in AP classes or students preparing to take the MSAs in about a month? Have any teachers tried to be in contact with their students to give them a few extra assignments? Are you posting notes on your websites to students to ask them to work ahead or are you just hoping they will have taken this time to relax, read a good book and get in some serious shoveling and sledding time with friends?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:47 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

February 6, 2010

Let's start betting on when schools will reopen

I am pretty sure that schools will be closed on Monday. I have no facts to back that up, but it seems a pretty good bet.  Readers of the blog may have some extra time on their hands. I thought I would start a poll on what parents, teachers and administrators are thinking? Should I mention the Tuesday forecast of up to 8 more inches?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:41 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Around the Region

January 15, 2010

Maryland schoolchildren can contribute to Haiti fund

The Maryland State Department of Education is providing the structure to allow schoolchildren a means to channel their concern over the earthquake victims in Haiti into fundraising for the devastated region. After Hurricane Katrina, the state's schoolchildren raised $1.3 million.

Today, the department announced that it would set up a fund that school systems can contribute to until Feb. 12.  For more information go to the

Are teachers out there trying to include something about Haiti in their lesson plans to help children deal with the many sad pictures they are seeing?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:59 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

December 28, 2009

New trend in suspensions

Because we are about to enter a new year, I thought I would leave this good news item for everyone. Advocates for Children and Youth has just analyzed the recently released data on school suspensions and for a change, there's been a reduction. The number of times that students are suspended each year has dropped significantly, particularly in Baltimore City and Prince George's County. The percent of students suspended statewide dropped by 12 percent from the prior year and fell to the lowest point in more than a decade, according to ACY.

Just a few years ago, Baltimore City was suspending about 12 percent of its students. They have reduced that to just over 9 percent.  The reductions follow years of work by school systems to put programs in place that will reward good behavior. In addition, school superintendents, such as Andres Alonso in the city, have simply ordered principals to lower suspensions for certain offenses.

School systems have stopped suspending students for being truant, for instance.

The only system to buck the statewide trend is Baltimore County, where the suspension rate is still at 11.2 percent, according to ACY.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:13 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Around the Region

December 23, 2009

Snow makes holidays longer than usual

As we say in today's paper, most school systems decided not to have their students come back for one day before winter break.   Baltimore and Harford were the exceptions. School systems argue that the snow on side streets and sidewalks would mean students were walking in the street.  Not all city streets, in particular, have been plowed. We interviewed some parents who would have preferred not to have their sweet creatures underfoot in the windup to the big holiday. How do all those kids feel though?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

December 16, 2009

More than 300 teachers receive national board certification

Maryland added 307 new board-certified teachers to its ranks this year, a 22 percent increase from last year. We now have 1,669 board-certified teachers in the state, about a third of whom are in Montgomery County.

Anne Arundel County, though, which is relatively small compared to others in the metro region, has the second highest number. That county added 48 new teachers this year. The question may be why isn't the city in the game here? The top five school systems in the state based on the number of national board-certified teachers are Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Carroll and Baltimore counties.

The state ranks seventh in the number of board-certified teachers it added this year. and 14th in the nation for the total number. Here is a list of the state's new board certified teachers.

Continue reading "More than 300 teachers receive national board certification" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:21 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

December 11, 2009

Grasmick proposes teacher reforms

Grasmick's proposed policy shifts announced yesterday attempt to align Maryland with other progressive states that are trying to put more emphasis on teacher effectiveness. The story today  outlines the broad outline of the proposals, but we will wait for the details to come out in the coming weeks. I wonder how many school districts in the state might actually offer incentive pay to certain teachers? And how would districts begin using the test scores as part of the job performance evaluations? At least one state that has linked test scores to job performance prohibits teachers from being fired because of low test scores.

But the issue most on my mind today is this: how difficult is it really to get rid of teachers? Are principals still passing poor teachers around the school district because it is such an arduous process to remove them or are they actually trying to use the evaluation process? We have all heard stories of districts that had great difficulty getting rid of a teacher even when that teacher's behavior was clearly wrong. What is happening here?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:07 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Region

December 7, 2009

Maryland charter law gets a D

The Center for Educaton Reform released a study this morning that gives Maryland a D for its charter school law. CEF says the state has the ninth worst charter school law in the country.

The state gets low marks for having a law that allows only school districts to authorize charter schools to start up and requires teachers to remain part of the collective bargaining contract. While there is no cap on the number of charters allowed in the state, local school districts can set their own limits.

"Most states still have significant deficiencies in their charter laws—despite the highly publicized 'Race to the Top' competition that promises to distribute $4.3 billion in extra education funding for reform-oriented states," according to the report.

Maryland was in good company. Half the 40 states with charter laws received great grades and 16 barely passed.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:47 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

December 1, 2009

Requiring four years of high school math

My colleague, Childs Walker, writes today about the push by the University of Maryland system to require all its entering freshmen to have had four years of high school math. The move would, of course, eventually encourage the state to make four years of math a high school graduation requirement.

There's a growing consensus among state and national education leaders that all high school students should have to pass an Algebra II course before they graduate. The new university system requirement would also mean top students wouldn't be able to drop math after they have finished an AP calculus course in their junior year. University professors argue that students who haven't taken math in their senior year come to college with rusty math skills.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region

Are English teachers still assigning term papers?

In a recent post on his blog, Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews writes about the lack of research papers in high school these days. He says that students are no longer being asked to write 3,000- or 4,000-word research papers that require students to go through a step-by-step process of finding a topic, doing research in a library, writing an outline ... . You get the picture and probably remember doing those papers yourself.  He quotes a Prince George's County teacher who gave up the practice of assigning term papers because the writing skills, even of those headed to college, were so poor.

The end result is that some students are arriving at colleges, he said, without writing skills necessary to do the work.

But I would like to know if this is really true. Aren't Howard and Baltimore County English teachers still requiring term papers at least once a year through high school? Are teachers finding that writing is deteriorating? Really? I am not sure I am convinced. So here' a chance for English and history teachers to explain what is going on in practice. And do you have enough time to grade all those papers?  A state task force looking into writing a few years ago suggested that the best way to improve writing would be to lower the number of students each high school English teacher has during the day to allow them to assign more writing.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:55 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region

November 30, 2009

Alcohol-related accident takes life of River HIll student

Today, we report about the sad death of a River Hill High School football player over the weekend. The driver of the vehicle was a River Hill graduate and former football player. He is now facing charges of vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving. The accident came a day after the Howard County state championship team had lost a key game.

River Hill's principal and staff were at the school yesterday preparing for the sadness and emotional turmoil that might erupt today from students who are grieving the loss of a friend. 

While we don't know whether the two teenagers in the car were drinking or not, this accident again reminds us of the issue of teenage drinking. Surveys report an increase in binge drinking, and so I would like to hear from administrators and parents on the issue of what role schools can or should play in trying to control it. Students learn about it the issue in most health classes. Should administrators do anything else? Is this a parental issue and not a school issue? What role can coaches play in trying to reduce drinking?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:45 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

November 24, 2009

A CollegeBound scholar who is grateful she got to college

Before everyone in schools heads off for a much-needed Thanksgiving break, here's some thoughts from Glenda Cornish, a CollegeBound scholar, who can remind everyone why they can be grateful for those who work with young people. She wrote this for the CollegeBound newsletter:

"Every young child has some idea of what they want to become when they get older. I was no exception. For as long as I can recall, I wanted to be a lawyer. But how I was raised totally changed that idea. I was raised with an alcoholic father. My mother was addicted to drugs and wasn't in my life. For nine years my younger sister and I lived in this hostile, saddening environment. I was subjected to a lot of cursing and verbal abuse.  What made it worse was that my sister got the worst end of things, most of the time, and wasn't able to adapt under the conditions as well as I did. Even after we moved from my father's home, I could tell that she was still affected by what had happened. Even though going to college has been my dream since I was a child, I also know that I have no other option, due to the life that I have lived. I knew that I have to go to college to not only make sure I survive as an adult, but also to be an example to my sister. I want to show my sister that you can become something great in the future, if you had a horrible past. At Bowie State University, I am studying pedology because I want to become a child psychologist or counselor. Pedology is the scientific study of the life, development, and socialization of children and adolescents and Bowie is the first university in the nation to offer this program. I love children, and I think I would enjoy working in either an elementary or middle school. Most importantly, I realize that children are affected tremendously by their environment, and I want to help children who live in troublesome environments and are starting to go down the wrong path. I want to do for other children what I couldn't do for my sister."

Glenda Cornish is a sophomore at Bowie State University. She is a recipient of The Leslie Moore Foundation Scholarship, Anna and Eli Berkenfeld Memorial Scholarship, and the SHERO Scholarship.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

November 23, 2009

Maryland at the bottom in Race to the Top?

The editorial page is writing an editorial about Maryland's slow take-off on trying to get Race to the Top funds from the U.S. Department of Education. If successful, Maryland would get as much as $250 million in stimulus money next year, but the state appears to have been slow to position itself for the funds.

A preview of the editorial is here. Tell the editorial board what you think about this issue.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

November 18, 2009

An opportunity to see what really goes on in classrooms

I don't usually share my personal opinions or experiences on this blog, but today I want to encourage all parents to take advantage of the last two days of American Education Week and go visit your child's classroom. No matter how busy you are, adjust your schedule and get there.

For those of you who have never been, I promise you will leave wiser about both your school and just how well your child is doing in the classroom.

There's really no better way of seeing what is going on than spending a day following your kids around. It is a wonderful idea, and I wonder why the private schools have not adopted it or why the private school parents don't demand it.

Until my children got to tenth grade and told me they would die a million deaths if I showed up in their classrooms, I never missed this opportunity. I remember the moment when I dreaded spending 45 minutes in Algebra II. I was one of those kids who wasn't happy about math. I admit it. But this math teacher was so inspired that the parents in the back of the classroom began to whisper, give each other smiles and wish that they had been so lucky when they were in eighth grade. Wow. No one could believe how good he was! I thought maybe this was a special lesson, but no, my daughter told me her math class was always like that. I doubt any parents there that day cut their child much slack about math, knowing they were in a class with a gifted teacher. I saw other classrooms over the years that were just plain dull, and I took pity on my kids. In another case, I saw another new teacher who barely had control.

I also had moments when I watched and suddenly "got it," realizing why my elementary school child was struggling and why we needed to work harder on something at home.

Whatever those classrooms were like, I had been there and had a glimpse into their world that helped me better support my children. The experience left me able to understand and be kind when they had had a bad day with Mrs. James, or to be less than sympathetic when they had forgotten an assignment because I knew it was probably posted up there in the left-hand corner of the board.

A friend of mine just reported that her trip to school this morning included watching a child with disabilities fall apart and have to be taken out of the room. She had a new appreciation for the dynamics of her son's classroom and what the teacher had to juggle.

I would love to hear comments from parents here who have been to classrooms this week. Give us a short description of your experiences. And go ahead and criticize me for chickening out and not going during those later years of high school. I can take the heat.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:57 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

November 17, 2009

Mustache growing race raises money for classrooms

And you thought that city schools chief Andres Alonso and Omari Todd, director of Teach for America Baltimore, were on the same side when it comes to kids. Well, think again. They are dualing it out for the Mustaches for Kids program, beginning tonight when they will make their chins and upper lips free of all facial hair so that everyone has a fair start in the race to grow a mustache. So will other men around Baltimore who are participating in the program.

Those men participating, called Growers, will ask friends and family to donate money to buy needed supplies for classrooms around the area. Teachers will post their needs on the Web site.

It is a bit like a runner gathering donations to run a marathon, except that this race is a month or so long so we won't know who grows the better mustache for awhile. We will keep you posted about the results as soon as they are in. In the meantime, teachers get out there and put your requests up!


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:23 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Region

November 16, 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley says Maryland is not behind

We wrote in Saturday's paper about the fact that Maryland appears to be lagging behind other progressive states in positioning itself to be competitive in the race to get a portion of $4 billion in federal funds. Education advocates around the state have questioned why Maryland has not been more proactive in talking about the competition for dollars that the Obama administration is saying could start a revolution in education.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan would like, for instance, to have every state have a data system that has the capacity to say how much progress a student has made in the past year of school. This involves being able to look at the test scores from one year to the next and draw conclusions. The "growth" a student makes, Duncan says, should be part of a teacher's annual evaluation. I am not aware of any school system currently creating this link between test scores and teacher evaluations and it is a concept that is deeply concerning to the Maryland State Education Association, which is part of a national teachers union.

Gov. Martin O'Malley quickly responded to the criticism this morning and Laura Smitherman's story is now up on the Web site.


Continue reading "Gov. Martin O'Malley says Maryland is not behind" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

November 3, 2009

Should the age for mandatory attendance be raised?

The Associated Press reported recently that Montgomery County's school board has made a  symbolic push to get the Maryland General Assembly to raise the age a student must stay in school to 18.

Currently, students can drop out at 16 and, the AP reports, only the legislature can change that. But Montgomery County, whose graduation rate has fallen to its lowest level -- 87 percent -- this spring, is hoping to change the tide by voting on a measure last week to make the change to age 18. Most of the students who drop out in the county are 16 and 17 year olds.

Should other school boards take the same stand to encourage the state legislature to pass a bill requiring all students to be in school until 18?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:06 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region

November 2, 2009

Loyola professor sounds off on teaching math

On the paper's editorial pages today is a column by Loyola University's Joseph Ganem about the teaching of math.

He argues that some students are being taught overly complex math at too young an age. It is an interesting piece to read, although some commentors have suggested that perhaps his premise is wrong. Are we really teaching difficult concepts too early because of tests?

I wonder if that is correct because last week we wrote that the Maryland School Assessments for fourth-graders are some of the easiest in the nation.

What do math teachers think of Ganem's argument?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:57 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

October 28, 2009

Absenteeism affecting schools?

I'm working on a story about how high rates of absenteeism and illness among students are affecting schools. Several school systems throughout the country have already begun to make adjustments: A Florida county is looking to suspend its exam exemption policy to prevent sick students from dragging themselves in to make sure they can get out of finals. Some student athletes in New York are no longer allowed to shake hands after games.

Please send me a note with your stories about how things have changed in your school or district.  Are you having to adjust things in the classroom, such as assignments and project deadlines - or facing challenges in terms of just getting through curriculum with so many students out? 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

October 19, 2009

"Wiki fever" in Baltimore County and beyond

My story in today's paper takes a look at the increasing use of the Web 2.0 tool known as a wiki (not to be confused with Wikipedia, which is certainly in the same family).  These online spaces, which allow people to modify, contribute to and comment on content, are starting to take off in schools throughout Baltimore County, as well as the Carroll and Anne Arundel school systems.

You can check out Carroll's pilot wiki, done by social studies students at Northwest Middle last school year, to get an idea of what one looks like.

Teachers at Catonsville Middle, where I had the chance to observe a wiki lesson, say they have already noticed more engagement and interest among students - and several of the kids I spoke with were very much in favor of ditching traditional, hand-written class assignments for good. (I wonder how teachers and parents feel about that.)

One thing I found particularly interesting in all of this is how schools are working to teach students about Web etiquette, training them to flex their digital muscles with care.  Could these kids help usher in a new era of online civility?  Or is it too much to hope such lessons in polite discourse will stay with them?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:27 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

October 16, 2009

Gifted-and-talented conference for Maryland teachers

Today I sat in on an annual conference for gifted-and-talented educators at Randallstown High School, which drew teachers from throughout the state.  There were a variety of sessions on ways to inspire creativity and critical thinking among students in math, science, reading and other areas - led by teachers from various area school systems. 

The keynote speaker was Dr. Bertie Kingore, a longtime gifted-and-talented educator who also held a session on books and teaching tools.

I thought I'd share some very interesting tips/tidbits from her session and another I attended - some of which could certainly apply to all types of students (or so this non-educator thinks).

A sample of Dr. Kingore's recommended children's books that promote higher-level thinking:

  • First the Egg, Courage and If the World Were a Village for abstract and critical thinking
  • My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks, If... and The Dot for art, visual and spatial concepts
  • Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories and Winston the Book Wolf for inference
  • If You Hopped Like a Frog, A Place for Zero and Sir Cumference Series for math concepts and terminology
  • The Boy Who Loved Words, Once Upon 1001 Stories, Around the House the Fox Chased the Mouse and Mom and Dad Are Palindromes for oral and written language
  • I Wanna Iguana and Joyful Noise for the concept of point of view
  • Dear Deer (an exercise in homophones) and Pig in the Spigot for skills and written conventions

Kingore emphasized the importance of teachers documenting what they are doing - showing how they are covering the requirements (testing standards) even as they implement more creative strategies.

She also repeatedly reminded teachers to take Saturdays off.

After the reading workshop, I headed over to one whose title grabbed my attention - and evidently, that of the many teachers who crowded into the classroom: "The Singing Math Teacher."

Continue reading "Gifted-and-talented conference for Maryland teachers" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:26 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

October 8, 2009

Student pictures of dilapidated school buildings on display

Baltimore Freedom Academy students and members of the Maryland ACLU were in Washington, D.C., this week to view the work of the students, who took photographs of their run-down city schools for an exhibition called "Through Your Lens."  The exhibition, which spotlights the problems of antiquated buildings across the nation, is on display in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington. The work can be viewed online as well.

In 2004, a task force studying school facilities found that it would take $4 billion to bring buildings up to minimum adequacy, according to the ACLU. In Baltimore City, the school system said it needed $2.7 billion to modernize all of its schools.

Recently, more money has been designated to school construction, but the ACLU says it is not enough to keep up with the problems.

Baltimore City is not the only one with problems. Parents in Baltimore County have been fighting to get air conditioning installed in several recently renovated middle schools.

Continue reading "Student pictures of dilapidated school buildings on display" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region

October 2, 2009

Does your school bathroom have soap? Sanitizers?

Since a 14-year-old girl died of the H1N1 virus on Tuesday night. I have gotten some e-mails from parents saying that getting information out about prevention is important, but just as important is making sure that schools have the basics: soap and paper towels in the bathrooms and hand sanitizers in classrooms. I was wondering how uniform a problem the lack of supplies is in schools. So parents and teachers, can you tell us whether your schools are taking precautions? And are parents made nervous by the death of a girl who had no underlying illness when she got the flu?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Region

October 1, 2009

A new college prep resource

State officials launched a new Web site today, geared toward helping high school students plan and prepare for college. The site,, features a virtual college campus, as well as information about financial aid and college life in general.

Give it a whirl.  Tell me what you think.  Could this site help get students on track for higher education?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

September 25, 2009

Montgomery County superintendent in Ireland

A Montgomery County parents group that is vigilant about keeping track of what goes on in the school system there sent an e-mail message out yesterday morning saying that Jerry Weast is in Northern Ireland advising the school system there. They are asking why he isn't in his office in Montgomery County doing his job.

They provided a video of him being interviewed as an education expert on the Belfast evening news as proof. County taxpayers are not footing the bill for the trip, says a Montgomery County spokesman. The Northern Ireland government is paying for the weeklong trip.

In any event, I thought readers might be interested in the video.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Region

September 22, 2009

2009 High School Assessments

Liz Bowie had a story in today's paper about the 2009 High School Assessment results, which indicate that making the tests a graduation requirement hasn't presented as big of an obstacle to students as originally feared, according to data provided by state education officials.

This news has some folks wondering whether the bar is being set too low, particularly as state officials say only 11 students did not graduate solely because of the assessment requirement.

Liz will have another story in tomorrow's paper, taking a look at the future of the HSAs, and where we go from here. Stay tuned.  Also, you can check out the results on the state's Web site, which also has an updated state watch list for schools failing to make adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime...what do you think?  Do the HSAs set the bar too low?  What do you think about the small number affected by this requirement (the city, for example, reported no students kept from graduating only because of the HSAs - but did represent about 20 percent of the waivers given to seniors statewide)?

September 16, 2009

Asian Achievement on the PSAT

We spend a lot of time concentrating on how to improve the achievement of African Americans and Hispanic students, but when I pore over data sometimes I wonder: Why aren't we analysing the achievement gap between Asians and whites? We have worked to close the achievement gap because of the educational inequities that have existed for years in African American communities, but we might also look at what makes Asian families so committed to high achievement. The fact is that Asians have higher pass rates on most of the state and national tests that I have taken a look at in the last several years.

One more piece of evidence on this subject crossed my desk today, in the form of the list of Maryland's National Merit Semifinalists. Nationally, 1.5 million juniors took the PSAT last year. Out of that group, the National Merit Scholarship Program selected the top 16,000 semifinalists who will then go on to compete to become National Merit Finalists. The finalists receive college scholarships.

So to be part of this crowd, you have to be pretty academically gifted. Congratulations to all those students who are on the list.

As I went down the list of students, I noticed the number of Asian surnames among the semifinalists as well as the large number who come from Montgomery Blair High School. In that high school alone, it appeared that about half of the names were Asian. 

The percentage of Asians on the list seemed to be higher than the percentage of Asians in the general population in Maryland. I wonder what educators have observed in their schools and classrooms? 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:55 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region

September 8, 2009

At Woodlawn High, students watch as president speaks

Several of the Sun education reporters went to schools in different districts to sit in on classes as they watched President Obama's speech to them at noon today. I was at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, where several classes were able to watch the speech live - and where, according to Principal Brian Scriven, there were plans to record the address for those who had lunch at the time it aired.  Viewing the speech was voluntary - as it was throughout the county and in other school systems, too. 

I was struck by some of the insights the students had in a discussion prior to the address - and how seriously many of them took the exercise, and the speech (I do remember high school, after all).

Stay tuned...I'll have more to share as we continue working on this story.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:03 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore County

Harford County updates decision about Obama speech

Harford County, which had announced Friday that it would not air the president’s speech at noon Tuesday,  amended this decision Tuesday and will “provide its students the opportunity” to view the president’s address by the end of the school day Thursday, according to the school system’s Web site. Parents can still opt to have their children not watch the speech.

The county previously said it would not air the speech Tuesday because its guidelines for broadcasts and videos require previewing materials shown to children and giving staff time to formulate responses and work the items into the regular classroom curriculum. It said on its Web site Tuesday that schools will use materials from both the district and the U.S. Department of Education to discuss the address.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:52 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Around the Region

September 7, 2009

President Obama's speech to students

Here is the transcript of the president's speech, folks - also pasted below. 

I'm working on a story about this today and would like to get reactions from Maryland parents.  Please drop me a line or give me a call (410-332-6639).

Continue reading "President Obama's speech to students" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:34 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

September 6, 2009

Addendum: President Obama's school speech

You just might be aware of President Obama's upcoming speech to students, which will be broadcast live this Tuesday.

A transcript of the president's remarks is supposed to be posted on the White House Web site tomorrow, for those who are curious.  I will post a link here once it's released.

On a side note, I understand several Harford residents - in addition to the parent mentioned in my story - plan to picket the Board of Ed in Bel Air during the speech, to protest its decision not to show the address in schools.  Harford seems to be the only Baltimore-area school system to have gone this route.  Most others are leaving it up to individual schools and teachers to decide whether they want to watch it.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:00 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Parents

September 4, 2009

Poll: Should President Obama address schoolchildren?

Debate is swirling about President Obama's planned speech Tuesday to schoolchildren, urging them to take responsibility for their own education. Some school districts, such as Harford County, will not be broadcasting the president's speech, while others are allowing each school to decide. Parents also have the option of having their children excused from the speech. So what do you think?


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 4:19 PM | | Comments (120)
Categories: Around the Region

September 2, 2009

KIPP Ujima in Baltimore gets national attention

The confrontation between the Baltimore Teachers Union and the KIPP middle school in Baltimore has gotten a lot of attention in the past several weeks as it did on this blog when I first wrote about it in The Sun.

This morning, CNN did a report on the issue, highlighting that KIPP laid off several teachers and shortened its school day in order to adhere to the union contract.  The CNN report followed others in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and other papers.

And today, David Miller, from the Maryland Charter School Network was asked to blog for the  National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. His post is here :

He says that the union shouldn't try to stifle the growth of the KIPP school.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 PM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Around the Region

August 28, 2009

Maryland students post mediocre results for science

The state released the results of the Maryland School Assessments for science this week and they improved only slightly over the past year.

The tests don't count for No Child Left Behind, and state officials believe that schools and teachers aren't stressing them much with students. Still they are some indicator of what students know.

Only 63.7 percent of fifth-graders passed the test and only 65.3 percent of eighth-graders passed.

This is only the second year the exams have been given and there was a 4 percentage point gain in eighth grade, but the scores were flat in fifth.

Still, the test results are about 20 percentage points below reading and math. State school board members seemed disappointed by the results, particularly since there is a new emphasis on math and science in a state trying to market itself to biotech research and businesses.

The state did release graphs comparing results in Maryland with other states. The tests are different, but Connecticut had a much higher pass rate than Maryland.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she thought that the enormous effort that has been made on reading and math in the past five years under NCLB has sucked attention away from subjects like science and history.

I would like to know what science teachers out there have to say about how seriously they and their students take the tests and whether they believe their subject is given a lot less attention than it should be given.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

August 26, 2009

The dropout rate declines

Maryland's dropout rate took a big dip in the past year, but it is unclear whether the change is due to better data collection or a true drop. Only about 2.8 percent of students dropped out of high schools this past year. The big question that hasn't been answered yet is what effect the High School Assessments may have had on the graduation rate, and therefore, the dropout rate.

The figures reported yesterday at the state school board meeting don't include the seniors who didn't graduate because they failed to meet the HSA requirement. Right now they are in the same category as a student who doesn't get enough credits to move on to the next grade. So when they don't show up for school next week, then we will know more.

The bottom line is that we still don't have good data on what effect the HSAs may have had on kids in the Class of 2009, and the data aren't expected out for another month.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

August 19, 2009

ACT scores released today

There's an interesting Education Week article today on the ACT results, which indicate most students are not ready for college.  And while a higher percentage of Maryland students are deemed prepared, the number (30 percent) is still low.

You can see how Maryland students did on the exam, and also check out the state's college readiness report.

SAT scores are expected next week, so stay tuned.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Testing

August 18, 2009

Vaccinating children in schools for H1N1

When schools open this year, school officials will have another worry: the swine flu. Health officials are predicting a larger than usual number of students will be out sick with either the seasonal flu or the swine flu, and they are asking schools to help vacinate the school-aged population. In a story that ran over the weekend, we talked about the possible need for schools and colleges to do mass vaccinations in hopes of stemming the spread of the virus in this susceptible population. We were wondering if parents want their children vaccinated at school and if they would be willing to be involved in helping in schools to get the job done? The health department believes the community and particularly parents will have to be part of a volunteer effort on the days the vaccine is offered. Parents could escort children from their classroom to the place at school where they will get the vaccinations, for instance. It is likely that schools will have to give the vaccine twice about two weeks apart for a student to get the full immunity.

Are parents and teachers nervous about the flu season ahead or do they feel there is no need to get alarmed now because the flu does not seem to be any worse than the seasonal flu?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

August 3, 2009

Maryland names persistently dangerous schools

Members of the Maryland State Board of Education didn't speak the words "persistently dangerous" at the most recent meeting, but they quietly voted to give the designation to seven more Baltimore City schools. Of the seven, many are being closed. 

The schools to get the designation are Canton Middle, Garrison Middle, Hamilton Middle, Dunbar Middle, Samuel L. Banks High, Thurgood Marshall High, and Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Last year, the board agreed that the designation uses criteria that are more stringent than most across the country. For several years, no schools were designated as persistently in many major urban areas in America that have larger school populations that Baltimore.

So this year, the board took action to fullfill its obligation under NCLB but is clearly trying to downplay the action.

The question remains whether the board will have to change its criteria if NCLB is not reworked in the next year or two.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:42 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

July 28, 2009

Watch out, here comes another wave of changes in education.

In my reporting over the past week or two, I have been asking superintendents, principals, teachers and education advocates if they are aware of the tidal wave of change that might be coming in the next year. For the most part, they have only a vague notion of what is happening on the national level.

I predict that the words Common Core Standards (think national standards) will be the new common language in the education community in a year. NCLB may seem so 2004 in just a few months.


Continue reading "Watch out, here comes another wave of changes in education." »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:48 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region

July 27, 2009

Saving the environment with plastic lunch trays

Tonight, a group of elementary school students is going to ask the Montgomery County Council to do away with styrofoam lunch trays at their school cafeteria and bring back the hard plastic lunch trays. To make the switch, they are asking for money for their school to buy a dishwasher for the trays.

These 9- to 12-year-olds will hold a rally and then make statements during the comment period of the Montgomery County Board of Education meeting. The students, all at Piney Branch Elementary School, are part of a Young Activist Club. They have created a press release that includes the breakdown in costs to use the plastic trays versus the sytrofoam. They will argue that the school system is overestimating the cost of the washing machine. Here's what a girl named Heather DeMocker, a sixth-grader, wrote:

Continue reading "Saving the environment with plastic lunch trays" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:30 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

July 22, 2009

Is advanced the new proficient?

So many schools around the state have done so well on the Maryland School Assessments that it is difficult to really rank schools and say which are better. One third of all elementary schools now have more than 90 percent of their students who have passed the test. In some counties, a high percentage of their schools now are vying to see if they can get to 98 percent passing or 95 percent. In the city, 20 elementary schools have 90 percent of their students passing the test.

So what is the next bar to jump over? Perhaps it is time to sort by what percentage of students can place in the advanced category.

In interviews I am doing today for stories later this week, I hear people say that those top performing schools are now concentrating on providing the arts and music, as well as more creative approaches to helping every child develop his or her strengths.

Do principals and teachers think the MSA is becoming less relevant because it isn't that hard to pass? Is this a good thing?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:34 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Around the Region

July 21, 2009

And they're in: MSA scores

See our early online story, as well as the state Web site with individual district and school scores.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:27 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

July 15, 2009

Should Towson Catholic High students stay in parochial schools?

My colleague, Mary Gail Hare, who has been covering the Towson Catholic High School closing saga, provides this update on the spaces that other schools have made available to the Towson Catholic students: Towson Catholic parents and students met with administrators from 15 area parochial schools in an effort to find placements for the fall. Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Essex has offered the entire senior class of 38 space in its classrooms. The TC students may be allowed to wear their own uniforms and may receive diplomas with both schools written on them. Tom Rose, OLMC coordinator of development, said the high school has room to add many more students and has spoken with several TC families. It is also looking at transportation opportunities for those who want to transfer. TC is about 12 miles from the Essex campus. The school's enrollment is 205 and as a co-ed school it is similar to TC in many aspects. Tuition is slightly higher at $9,818, but it will admit seniors at their TC tuition, which is $9,500 annually. "We would incorporate the TC seniors into our leadership group and the National Honor Society,” Rose said. “They can be involved in our athletic programs. We would honor the seniors’ academic scholarships.”

Archbishop Curley High School has agreed to take all the male students at the TC tuition of $9,500 annually.

The archdiocese has asked the schools who accept TC students to delay requests for tuition, until families have been reimbursed. A big question for parents facing the dilemma of where to send their child may be whether to stay in the Catholic schools. 

Continue reading "Should Towson Catholic High students stay in parochial schools?" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:32 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Around the Region

July 14, 2009

Maryland School Assessments coming soon

The scores from this spring's tests are a few weeks late coming out this year. State officials said they want to release the list of those schools that have failed to meet the grade at the same time as they release scores.

So the state has held off until now, but they are expected to be released at the Maryland State Department of Education meeting on Tuesday. We will have all the scores online and in the paper next week. Scores would be expected to rise as they have in every school district since the test has been given.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:39 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Around the Region

July 12, 2009

The case for changing the teaching of math

In today's paper, I write about the debate over how to teach math. College professors are arguing that high schools aren't teaching what students need to know for college. Too many students now have to take remedial classes when they arrive. About half of the high school graduates in Maryland who go to state community or four year colleges need a remedial class in math.

Interestingly, students who are put into a high math track early have an enormous advantage because they can take Advanced Placement Calculus classes and place out of the introductory classes at schools like College Park. But if they are left out of that high level math education, students may be far less prepared. I wonder what math teachers have witnessed? What do you think of the current math standards?

Specifically, the Abell Foundation argues in a report that the Algebra I/Data Analysis test now required for graduation isn't really Algebra I. Students are spending time learning other material that wastes their time and keeps them from getting a solid grounding in Algebra I, the report argues. The state says the HSA was never intended to be anything but a minimum standard and that school systems could still teach standard Algebra I.

Should the standards be changed?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:02 AM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Around the Region

July 9, 2009

Private schools and the economy

I'm working on a story looking at how private schools - and their families - are faring during these tough economic times.  I am on the lookout for parents - in the city and the suburbs - who've decided not to continue sending their kids to an independent school because of the cost, or who've had to pull together additional resources to send them back another year.

Please send me an email if you'd like to share your experience.  Thanks.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

July 8, 2009

Towson Catholic closes its doors

Today, about 100 students and parents gathered at Towson Catholic High School to protest the sudden announcement yesterday that the school is closing after 86 years.

The school had lost about 80 students over the summer and could no longer afford the loss of revenue. Today, on our Web site, parents and alums have been talking about what might have happened if they had known about the financial trouble. Some argue that the school might have been able to get enough donations to keep the school open another year.

I wonder why so many parents pulled their children out over the summer? Was it the downturn in the economy that made paying for a Catholic school education too much for some parents or did they have concerns about the school?

And if some of the exodus was caused by the economy, are there other private and parochial schools in the Baltimore losing students?

Towson Catholic is the latest in a series of Catholic school closings this year and the archdiocese said it must find a new plan to sustain the existing schools as enrollments drop and the cost of supporting those schools goes up. One of the options is to provide some state taxpayer support to the parochial schools. We wonder what readers think of the idea?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:43 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

July 3, 2009

Baltimore schools and colleges

Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso proudly presented a group of high-achieving students going off to the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, College Park at a board meeting recently.

It was an honor for the students, who are among a smaller-than-usual pool who had been accepted at those schools through special programs.

In recent years, Hopkins and College Park have attempted to boost the number of city public school students who were able to attend their institutions – among the most prestigious in the state – by getting rid of one of the most difficult barriers: money.

Continue reading "Baltimore schools and colleges " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

July 2, 2009

Maryland State Board takes on job of vetting candidates

The Maryland State Board of Education has decided to take on some of the role of vetting candidates for the city school board. In my story today, I detail the questions the board is now asking candidates who apply for the job. It seems they are trying to prevent a repeat of the Brian Morris problem. Morris, the former city school board chair, was found to have a long history of financial problems. 

One of the questions on the candidate questionaire asks if there is anything in the candidate's background that would be potentially embarrassing to the citizens of Baltimore if it came out. State school board president James DeGraffenreidt said the school board expects to "conduct more detailed inquiries concerning the qualifications and backgrounds" of the candidates. In other words, the state will be doing its own background checks.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

June 30, 2009

State school board member Blair Ewing dies

Anyone who was a frequent visitor to state school board meetings over the past year knew that when Blair Ewing raised his hand to ask a question, it was time to perk up and listen because you knew he was likely to get straight to the heart of the issue. He was always a gentleman, polite and respectful, but he could also boil down all the education jargon to ask simple questions that exposed the core of a problem. He didn't mind putting the staff of the state department on the spot and more than once asked for more information or suggested a different course of action. Lately, he had taken a great interest in finding a way for students in Maryland to take an international test that would expose how well they compared to those in other countries. 

Ewing, who lived in Montgomery County and served on the school board there for many years, died today. He had been active on the state board through May. I asked the chair of the board for his thoughts. Here is what James DeGraffenreidt said: "Personally, I enjoyed the fact that he exhibited such a consistent, positive tone even when there were substantive disagreements over major policy issues. The fact that he always prepared well and listened to everyone's point of view made the state board more effective. We certainly will miss him and express our deepest sympathy to his family."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 26, 2009

The final day of Space Camp

Thursday was the final day of the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program, which 33 middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area took part in in Huntsville, Ala. Here are the final reports from some of the teachers who have been blogging about their experiences this week.

From City College math teacher Luis Lima:

Thursday was the last day of Space Camp. For Team Destiny, it was an emotional roller coaster. We started with an update on the status of NASA’s Ares program (the next manned mission to the moon). We were all very excited because after the update we were going to complete out mission on the Endeavour. Emotions were also running high because we knew we were hours away from saying goodbye to the amazing group of people who made up Team Destiny. But that is another story.

Mission Endeavour was a complete success. We had the most anomalies (things that can go wrong during any mission) thrown at us. At one point in time we were hit by a tornado and had to evacuate mission control while two of our crew members were space walking in order to repair the tiles on the orbiter. As I described in my previous blog, this is a very realistic environment and it was interesting to see how we all worked together to complete the mission and also have some fun. Today’s simulation brought home to me a statement I heard during my five days here: that NASA trains the fear out of its astronauts. Not that we were in danger at any time. But the mission simulation is pretty realistic and I had insight.

I guess we were on the right path today, since we were visited by a star trooper. After the mission, we were on the war path to complete all of our other chores: creating memorabilia to share with the team and to present to our counselors. Leigh and Lindsey, the multi-talented pair of educators who were our camp leaders, made our experience even more memorable through their competent, effective and meaningful leadership. But I digress ...

So, this is after lunch and we are all in the auditorium to attend Story Musgrave’s lecture. It was one of the most memorable presentations I have attended so far. Story’s amazing life story is an inspiration. He is brilliant and funny and, at his age, is still going strong. You may be asking, Story, who? Story Musgrave is the astronaut who has flown six shuttle missions. He was also responsible for the design of the tools and repair procedures for the maintenance of the Hubble telescope. Check him out. He was more than accommodating with our picture requirements, he signed anything you could have asked him to, and was really nice to all of us. I am in awe of the brilliant simplicity and technical excellence of his design.

Our next adventure was to explore the Lunar Stations with a set of problem-solving activities related to living and working on the moon. There were lots of great and easy-to-use activities to help students cooperate in the solution of complex problems. Very cool.

Let me give you a quick tip. If you ever come here, take the time to go on the Space Shoot. Now, you want to face the Apollo 11 rocket.

Continue reading "The final day of Space Camp" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 1:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 24, 2009

Math teacher's Space Camp report

From Hereford Middle School math teacher Rachel Murphy, one of the 33 area teachers participating in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program in Huntsville, Ala., this week:


Wow, where do I start? I will try my best to fill you in on all the amazing things we have been doing while at Space Camp. First let me say that I did not realize that Honeywell employees actually pay with their own money for our scholarships, so thank you to those employees who provided me with this experience. So far, this has been the greatest professional development that I have ever participated in. Saturday when we arrived, there were no scheduled activities planned, but a bus was provided to go to a local “mall” (I would compare it to the avenues at White Marsh and Hunt Valley back home). It was very upscale, and beautiful, and included a canal with gondola rides. I ate dinner with five others from Maryland and two other teachers, one from Delaware and one from Tampa. It was fun getting to know the other teachers in a laid-back and social setting.

Sunday morning we were up and running early in the morning (7:30). I met my teammates - Team Destiny. I’m not sure what the other bloggers have been saying, but I have to say that we are the best team! There are 18 of us, six from Maryland. Other states and countries represented include England, Canada, Delaware, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania and California. We bonded quickly through a few team-building activities. Throughout the day we took a tour of the museum, learned the ins and outs of how NASA builds and launches their shuttle missions, as well as more about the Honeywell Corp. My favorite part of the day was building a bottle rocket. I have never seen a 2-liter bottle of soda go that high before! We ended the “scheduled” activities around 8 p.m., but hung out with each other for a few more hours before we called it a night. They were not kidding when they said they send us home tired! 

Monday, again we were up bright and early. We completed our first shuttle mission. I was an EVA on the International Space Station and got to build a tower “in space.” That was awesome! Once I return, you will be able to see some pics and video of my mission. In addition to our first mission, we participated in another rocket-building event (they were launched today - super cool!), and listened to a presentation from Ed Buckbee, who was selected by rocket scientist Wernher von Braun to start the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum and started space camps. He had many fun and inside stories to tell about the “good old days” of NASA.

Continue reading "Math teacher's Space Camp report" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 6:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Another Space Camp Dispatch

Luis LimaFrom City College math teacher Luis Lima, one of the 33 area teachers participating in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program in Huntsville, Ala., this week:

I can’t tell you how much fun this has been. Just to give you a short run, I played with toys in space, landed an egg on Mars, launched an engine rocket, helped air traffic control teach math, trained for a space shuttle mission to the International Space Station, walked on the moon, and spun around out of control.

My team, Team Destiny, is awesome! There are educators from all over the U.S., and Canada, the Philippines and, yours truly, Brazil. We had a full day of activities, beginning with the Toys in Space Workshop. Not only were there lots of neat ideas on how to use regular toys to represent laws of physics and gravity, but we also got to make our own. It’s super interesting to watch Team Destiny work together to complete the assignments, document the whole experience and have fun.

After a quick break, we all went to Mars - or had a quick fly by some interesting activities and projects we can use. I learned a lot about Mars and again worked in a small group to design and build a spacecraft to safely land a chicken egg on the Red Planet. To land an egg traveling at about 250 mph whole  was a lot of work. I believe all the eggs used during this project landed safely. It was not the landing of the eagle, but the next best thing.

Engine Rocket Launch followed our lunch break. Fifteen model rockets flew off into the summer skies of Alabama, where the weather is a lot like my hometown of Rio de Janeiro than I thought possible. My engine did not fly - lots of smoke but no take-off! I was told it happens. I was happy to see that the parachute assembly worked as designed, but the whole thing remained attached to the launching pad. It was a little frustrating until I remembered that at least the engine was not devoured by the rocket-eating trees around the launching field. I watched 15 successful launches. And I had a few ideas on how to use rockets in my math classes this fall. 

Another workshop today was on how to use aeronautics to teach math ... airplanes and flights. It must have been my lucky day: how to use the math behind air travel and some cool Web sites to bring it all together. It was quite cool to me.

Continue reading "Another Space Camp Dispatch" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

State Board of Education update

While the state Board of Education is still mulling over possible changes to the vetting process for city school board candidates, several other things came out of their meeting yesterday.

The board approved the restructuring plan for Baltimore's Moravia Park Elementary/Middle School, which will require all school employees to reapply for their jobs.  All the staff positions at Moravia have been posted and interviews and selections are already taking place, city schools CEO Andres Alonso said.

Alonso told members that he was happy to be there "for only one school,” noting six schools were brought before them the previous year, and more the year before that. Alonso said he saw that as a sign of the progress that's been made.

For those who've been asking about the MSAs: State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said during yesterday's meeting that the results have been sent to each district, and the appeals process has begun, as adequate yearly progress is being determined. Grasmick said the results should be reported at the board's meeting in July.

And finally, the "voluntary state curriculum" may officially become "voluntary" no more: Grasmick said the board will be asked to remove the word from all references to the VSC.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, NCLB

June 23, 2009

Honeywell director talks about Space Academy


Dave Wickersham, Honeywell's director of environmental projects, talks about the company's sponsorship of the Educators @ Space Academy program, which 33 Baltimore-area middle school math and science teachers are attending this week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:11 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

Tackling school dropouts

In my story today, I take a look at dropouts – and, more specifically, dropout prevention and intervention – the focus of a day-long summit at Randallstown High School yesterday.  Hundreds of state educators, believed to represent all 24 school systems, attended the event, said to be a first for Maryland.  It was sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, an organization tied to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife and current chair, Alma.

One of the noteworthy moments during the summit involved a theatrical performance put on by a troupe from Garrett County, who portrayed seven characters – six students and a parent – explaining why they chose to drop out.  The writer of the play, called The Goodbye Kids, explained to the audience that the concept emerged from more than 20 interviews she did with dropouts.  The characters were composites of what she gleaned from those talks, she said.

The characters, all students at “Run of the Mill High School,” ranged from a boy who bellowed about how much his teachers bored him to a girl whose family never set a high priority on finishing school to a poor student who was sick of being mocked for his appearance – and stench.  Other highlights included a student who’d always gotten by – until that one teacher noticed his inability to read – and the mother of another who had been regularly mocked for being gay.

Interestingly, the profiles foreshadowed a later presentation from Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University


Continue reading "Tackling school dropouts" »

June 22, 2009

Teachers' first day at Space Camp

This week, 33 middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area are in Huntsville, Ala., to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program. They will be blogging about their experiences all week. Here are the reports from two teachers about their first day.


From Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy in Baltimore:

The first day of camp was filled with excitement. We started with a wonderful breakfast. I met so many people from Maryland. That was one of the best feelings in the world: We always hear people speak of Maryland’s educational system being so low and we have over 30 teachers here. Every activity we had, the leaders would ask where you are from, and someone would say Maryland. I could hear a few people saying — here we go, or another one? We are really representing here!

The team-building activity was my favorite part of the day. This is something that we do in advisory at my school and it really works. We got into a circle and went around, saying our name, I’m going to space camp, and I’m bringing some item or person. Then each person would repeat until we got to the end of the circle saying each name and what they are bringing. At the end of the activity, I knew everyone’s name. At no time during the day did I have to say  what’s your name?

Then we did a second activity that I’ve also done with my advisory, where everyone is in a circle and each person grabs the hands of a person across the circle to make a human knot. We were doing well with this from the beginning. Everyone communicated and we were getting loose. Then a group member, Luis, had to let go because he was afraid he would throw out his back. I was worried about him because it happened to me once before. Another group member recommended that we start over and try again — and we did. It was nice to see that Luis didn’t want to quit. The second time I was stuck, tangled, under the group and Luis threw his back out. A few people let go and the remainder of the group continued. The activity was all about communication and teamwork and my group, DESTINY, is all about both.

Continue reading "Teachers' first day at Space Camp" »

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 10:44 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 19, 2009

Coming next week: Baltimore-area teachers to share their Space Academy experiences

During the week of June 22, InsideEd will feature reports for some very special correspondents.  Thirty-three elementary and middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area will be in Huntsville, Al. to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program.

These teachers applied for and were awarded scholarships for this week-long program, during which they'll take part in astronaut-style training and simulations, and work together on educational activities.  They will carry back what they learn from these experiences to their classrooms to help students gain a better appreciation for math and science.

Throughout their week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, 8 of these educators will serve as "teacher/reporters" for InsideEd, sending us daily updates about what they're doing and what they're learning. 

Some of the teacher/reporters are also shooting video and taking photographs during the week.  After they get back, we'll collect these visuals and edit them into a presentation about the Space Academy that will be published on before the next school year begins.  That presentation will also include more information about the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program that these teachers and others can use in the classroom. 

Our teacher/reporters for the week will be:

Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy

Susan Allen of Urbana Middle School

Sarah Clark of Franklin Middle School

Mary Horner of Notre Dame Preparatory School

Luis Lima of Baltimore City College

Rachel Murphy of Hereford Middle School

Adren Thompson of Rising Stars Academy

Amy Wood of the Maryland Science Center

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Teaching

June 18, 2009

Including more males in the classroom

In my story today, I wrote about efforts to increase the number of males in schools.

For whatever reason, males have been noticeably absent from the school setting. Recently there have been initiatives to reverse that. The program that I found at one Howard County elementary school encourages fathers at the school to spend the day helping out teachers, and serving as an addition set of adult eyes in the hallways.

What do you think about increasing the number of males in the school? Is it necessary? What other creative ways might work to accomplish this?


June 17, 2009

Who should vet Baltimore school board candidates?

In today's story on the vetting of candidates for the city school board we talk about what process has been used in the past and what is happening today to choose the next school board member.

I wonder what readers think about who should be responsible for the vetting of candidates. The state board chair says the state board is just beginning the process. Should the state board decide to advertise? Who should be out there trying to convince Baltjmore citizens to apply for the school board, for an unpaid job that can consume many hours a week and doesn't get the person a lot of thanks from the public?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:45 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region

June 15, 2009

School's out

Thanks to all the teachers, principals and parents who helped us find subjects to profile on the last day of school in Baltimore City and Baltimore County last week. From a student spending the summer visiting her grandmother in Greece to the closing of Harriet Tubman Elementary, we think they captured the excitement -- and sometimes sadness -- that the last day of school can bring.
Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:19 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

June 9, 2009

Graduation rate and Maryland schools

Education Week has put out its annual ranking of school system graduation rates today and the news is both good and bad for school systems around the region.  Of the top 50 largest school districts throughout the country, Baltimore City is the sixth from the bottom with a graduation rate of 44.6 percent in 2006. Baltimore County, which has a graduation rate of 78.6 percent, is ranked fifth and Anne Arundel is eighth with a rate of 70.2 percent.

This might be rather depressing news for the city except for the fact that the way in which Education Week has calculated its rate is believed to be somewhat flawed, even by its own admission.

Ed Week does its best using the only data available for school systems across the nation, but it cannot actually track students. Rather, the graduation rate is an estimate based on the numbers of students who are in each grade that year in the district. So the rate does not take into account the students who graduate in five years nor does it try to compensate for what is known as the ninth-grade bulge. Many ninth-graders in the city don't pass all their classes and spend an extra half-year classified as a ninth-grader although they technically have nearly enough credits to be a 10th-grader.

In other words, the ninth grade looks larger than it really is and the number who eventually graduate is smaller than it should be.

So the Education Week researchers acknowledge that there may be a 14-point discrepancy in the true graduation rate and what they report.

In fact, the city schools say they graduated 62.6 percent of students.

We won't really have a true accounting of graduation rates for several years until a process is fully in place to track students.

But if Baltimore County's rate is actually as shown, that is good news for county residents. And Montgomery County tied for first place in the rankings.

The state as a whole had a graduation rate of about 73 percent, only slightly above the national average. 



Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:22 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

Last day of school profiles

With the last day of school in Baltimore City and Baltimore County rapidly approaching, we’re looking for some interesting stories to tell about students as they look to the summer. Do you know of any kids who have a great summer planned and are just itching for school to be over – maybe a student who’s going to space camp, or Europe with their parents? Or maybe a child who’s taking the class pet home for the summer? Or a middle-schooler who is nervous about going to high school next year? If you know of any students whom we could profile, please send an e-mail to or by Wednesday or post a comment on the blog.

UPDATE: Thanks to all the teachers, principals and parents who helped us find subjects to profile on the last day of school in Baltimore City and Baltimore County last week. You can read the profiles here.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:48 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

June 4, 2009

Harford County schools appoint superintendent

Baltimore County school administrator, Robert Tomback, is going north to head the Harford County school system. In Mary Gail Hare's story, she says the 58-year-old Timonium resident will take over the school system seat on July 1. Tomback was expected to sign a four year contract. The position came open after the sudden death of Jacqueline C. Haas in December.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:59 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

Giving readers a chance to post on the blog

The Sun has undergone a lot of change in the past month, including a reduction in staff and shifting of reporters covering certain beats. That change has forced us to think about how we might best serve our readers and keep the blog as vibrant as ever.

First, we would like to give some of our readers the opportunity to write a guest post once a week. We are happy to have some help.

We would like to have a range of people involved in education write for the blog: from teachers, principals, parents, nonprofit advocates, administrators, school board members to anyone else who has an opinion. We would also like to see some geographic diversity. So if you are in Baltimore County or Talbot County, we want you to feel like you're part of the conversation on education we are trying promote here.

And here is a special plea to students, who I often find are the best informed of all. We would like to make your voices heard as well. So please think about writing for the blog. I know there are many smart, thoughtful students who have some good ideas about their education. Let us hear from you.

We will start by posting a guest item once a week and see how it goes. If you are interested in writing a piece, please send an e-mail with the topic to; or our new education editor, Jennifer Badie. Her e-mail is

We'd like to discuss the post with you before you write it. We will give you a deadline and then publish the post a couple days later.

And second, our new higher education reporter, Childs Walker, will soon begin posting on the blog as well. So the blog will try to extend its range into the world of colleges and universities around the state.

We look forward to hearing from you.




Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

June 2, 2009

Teacher retention, and satisfaction, in Baltimore County

My story today takes a look at the debate about teacher retention in Baltimore County – and whether it is, in fact, a problem.

The subject caught my attention during the last county board meeting, when school officials presented a preliminary analysis of the TELL Maryland survey, the anonymous state questionnaire that teachers and other certified, school-based employees were invited to take earlier this year.

Both Tom Rhoades, the district’s executive director for research, accountability and assessment, and the superintendent emphasized that the survey’s results clearly show that teachers are staying in the county – and are happy to be working there, contrary to claims that they are fleeing to other districts for higher pay and better support.  It was clear those comments were aimed at Cheryl Bost, the president of TABCO, who has often said compensation is a factor in losing teachers.

For those interested in a bit of reading, here are the state reports on the teacher shortage and staffing, which Bost cites as evidence of a retention problem.

The discussion will probably continue next week, as a presentation on staffing trends is expected at the school board’s meeting.  And I suspect Bost may have a thing or two to say when she gets a chance to speak during that session.

But back to the TELL survey…for those who did take it, what did you think?  Will the governor’s goal of hearing directly from you result in actual changes in your schools?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:42 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

May 28, 2009

Less than 2.3 percent of seniors won't graduate

The state released its almost final numbers yesterday on the number of students who won't meet the high school assessment requirement and will fail to graduate. I have a story in today's paper. There are lots more kids who have been lost along the way during the process of moving from ninth to 12th grade, but these are the students held back by just the HSAs.

The news was remarkably good in the eyes of Nancy Grasmick and the state board members, some of whom breathed a sigh of relief. Mary Kay Finan, a board member, said, "The impact of the HSAs was not as detrimental as we thought it would be." Back in the fall, she said, it looked as though there were going to be 9,000 to 10,000 who weren't going to graduate.

What still hasn't been revealed is the number of students who may have been overwhelmed by the process of passing the tests or doing the projects. Caught in a school that wasn't giving them encouragement or support, they may simply have decided not to come back over last summer.

Or maybe they just dropped out during this school year. And we also don't know whether the dropout rate will rise.

I wonder if any of our regular readers know of students who haven't made it? How do they feel?

On the other hand, I would like to hear from teachers and principals about what they see as the next step in the process of making high school better for students.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:10 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

May 26, 2009

Teach for America growing in Baltimore

In Monday's paper, I wrote about Teach for America's plans to expand in Baltimore next school year.  What is interesting to me, but didn't make it into the story, is the fact that Maryland has been unable to choose some very highly qualified candidates from top schools in the nation because of its certification requirements. To be certified you have to have six college credits in a range of subjects. So you may have graduated in the top of your class at Harvard, but you won't be able to teach in Baltimore because you didn't take enough math classes.

The state and Teach for America are trying to negotiate a solution to this problem. They may agree to drop the distribution requirements in lieu of a high GPA. We will see.

In the meantime, plenty of applicants have stepped forward to find places in the city schools.

Andres Alonso likes TFA because it provides a lot of bang for the buck. He sees many future leaders in the system coming out of TFA.

What do you all think about the Teach for America expansion?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:38 AM | | Comments (58)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City<